"The two sides can enhance mutual trust and expand common interests."
How should conflicting claims in the South China Sea be resolved?
Preferably through peaceful means involving dialogue and consultation aimed at threshing out issues and concerns and then coming up with mutually acceptable solutions.
That was the idea behind the Inaugural Symposium on Maritime Cooperation and Ocean Governance held in Haikou, China from November 5-6, and it’s a step in the right direction, from where we sit.
The symposium was co-organized by the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, China-Southeast Asia Research Center on the South China Sea, Institute for China-America Studies and sponsored by the China Institute of the University of Alberta. It brought together over 500 participants from 30 countries and regions, including experts, scholars, diplomats, former politicians and representatives from international organizations either physically present in Haikou or virtually present via an online conferencing system.
The two-day symposium consisted of seven sessions, covering a range of topics: Global Ocean Governance and Regional Practices; Recent Developments and Hotspot Issues in the South China Sea; Maritime Security Cooperation and Risk Management; Regional Order Construction in the South China Sea; Maritime Cooperation: Current Practices and the Future; Frontier Research on Maritime Issues and Capacity Building for Ocean Governance; and New Ideas and Initiatives for Ocean Governance.
Among those who spoke in the symposium were former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo; Ambassador Fu Ying, Chairperson of the Center for International Strategy and Security of Tsinghua University; and Michael Lodge, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority. Stephen Orlins, President of the National Committee on US-China Relations and Teresa Cheng, founder of the Asian Institute of International Law, also delivered keynote speeches on the future of China U.S. relations and dispute management in the South China Sea, respectively on different sessions.
In her remarks, Arroyo stressed the importance of China-Philippines relations, and the need to adopt a multifaceted perspective and multi-dimensional approach in dealing with bilateral relations in order to achieve mutually beneficial results.
She reviewed the trilateral cooperation on joint seismic undertaking among the Philippines, China and the Vietnam as well as the successful experience of joint development between Malaysia and Thailand.
The former president explained that joint development should not undermine the legal rights to the claims of related parties, and called for promoting functional cooperation, including fishery resources management among littoral countries of the South China Sea, in order to protect environmental sustainability and enhance prosperity.
Ambassador Fu Ying pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic shows the urgent need to enhance global governance and improve the efficiency of international coordination mechanisms, which is also the case for ocean governance. She pointed out that multilateralism is the only approach for the international community to tackle such new problems and challenges. The ultimate goal of the maritime cooperation and ocean governance, she said, is to arrive at harmonious coexistence between the ocean and human beings and for the common good of mankind. To achieve this goal in the South China Sea, peace and stability are fundamental. Countries in the region should take a broader view beyond the zero-sum game and seek win-win and collaborative development.
The envoy also elaborated China’s South China Sea policy, and stressed that the “dual-track approach” is the most realistic and feasible way to manage and solve the South China Sea dispute.
Michael Lodge elaborated on how the International Seabed Authority, as a model of multilateral cooperation on global governance, has addressed various challenges brought upon by the big demand for seabed minerals due to global green transition. Through such process, the ISA has fulfilled its role in developing rules, regulations and procedures “necessary for the conduct of activities in the Area as they progress.”
By following an evolutionary and incremental approach to regulation formation, and adopting an exhaustive process of consultation and contributions from many different interests, the ISA has been able to properly respond to environmental concerns and ensure equitable sharing of benefits, Lodge said. He also commended Chinese President Xi Jingpin’s view that “Global governance should be based on the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits so as to ensure that all countries enjoy equal rights and opportunities and follow the same rules.”
Another speaker, Teresa Cheng, argued that the key to continued peace and security in the South China Sea lies not in the focus of disputes or dispute settlement and resolution, but on exploring opportunities in collaboration, cooperation and commitment to realizing the common interests of the littoral states. Compared to the “western approach” relying on confrontation and international law, the “Asian approach” based on mutual understanding is more conducive to fostering mutual trust and cooperation through peaceful coexistence.
Cheng was correct in saying that the ASEAN member-nations and China should continue the dialogue based on the principle of seeking common ground and setting aside differences. This way, the two sides can enhance mutual trust and expand common interests so as to develop favorable conditions for dispute settlement.