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Workshop focuses on sea controversy

Update: November, 12/2013 - 09:38
More than 200 participants gather at the workshop.— Photo hanoimoi

HA NOI (VNS)— Scholars, policymakers and relevant stakeholders discussed the East Sea dispute at a two-day international workshop in Ha Noi yesterday.

China and four members of ASEAN – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam – all claim rights to parts of the sea, which Viet Nam calls the East Sea and other countries, the South China Sea.

At the workshop, the fifth held on this topic, more than 200 participants gathered to discuss recent developments.

In recent years, preserving peace and stability in the sea became an increasingly urgent issue, Diplomacy Academy of Viet Nam (DAV) President Dang Dinh Quy stated in his opening remarks.

While relevant countries had largely adjusted their policies, exercised self-restraint and refrained from causing armed conflicts, Quy warned that "the most worrying trend in the East Sea" was "the perception and pursuit of narrow and short-term interests by certain parties."

Leaders of relevant parties needed to manage tensions and avoid conflict, he said.

Currently there are two key mechanisms to maintain marine peace: the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) and the work towards the conclusion of a code of conduct in the East Sea (COC).

The DOC sets out fundamental principles for peace, stability and maritime security in the area and also lays down the basic rules and norms for the conduct of parties in the East Sea, such as exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate disputes and affect peace and stability.

However, the DOC alone will not end the messy territorial dispute and its implementation will involve challenges, said Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN Nyan Lynn, as he delivered the keynote speech of Secretary General of ASEAN Le Luong Minh.

"A COC is an instrument for taking the purposes and principles of the DOC further. The COC should build upon the DOC, but be upgraded to a higher level in terms of both political commitment and legal status," he said.

Li Jainwei from China's National Institute for the South China Sea Studies said that the past year saw progress on the dispute, such as China's decision to join the official consultation of the COC.

However, Termsak Chalermpalanupap, a visiting research fellow at the ASEAN Studies Center of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, disagreed.

"There's nothing new from China," he said.

While Jainwei held up joining the official COC discussion as evidence that China was making progress, Chalermpalanupap pointed out that ASEAN state members and China still expressed conflicting views.

ASEAN members feel that a DOC is not enough to prevent unpleasant incidents from happening and want a legally binding COC. Yet China has consistently stated that "consultation" is part of the implementation of the DOC.

Moreover, the Chinese joint working group to participate in the COC consultation consists of only mid-level officials, who are not legally enabled to make policy decisions.

"We need more concrete measures to address incidents that can escalate into diplomatic crisis in the area," said Ralf Emmers, associate professor at Nanyang Technological University. "It's all diplomatic language."

The workshop was organised by the Diplomacy Academy of Viet Nam (DAV) and the Viet Nam Lawyers' Association. — VNS

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