As regional countries respond to Covid-19 and its numerous social and economic consequences, ensuring peace and stability in the South China Sea has become even more important due to its role in connecting continents, promoting international trade and ensuring that there is no to disrupt supply chains. This will allow the region’s economy to recover quickly from the pandemic and meet the legitimate needs of the people.
The South China Sea continues to face many uncertainties, although new forms of international cooperation are expected to improve the situation.
For example, in July 2021, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the decision of the Arctic Tribunal for the South China Sea, several countries expressed their support for the search – a common theme was the need to play a role in respect for international law. and is based on rules. order in the region as well as the peaceful settlement of disputes. The United States has recognized for the first time that a rules-based maritime order is most at risk in the South China Sea. The countries of the European Union have shown that they respect the rule of law and that the verdict is firm. The Philippines has said it will not give up its interests in the South China Sea.
In September, following the Australian US Ministerial Consultations, the United States and Australia issued a joint statement stressing the importance of countries exercising and cooperating in their maritime rights and freedoms in the South China Sea. called “gray zone operations” in the region. Later that month, the first personal summit of Quad leaders issued a joint statement highlighting objections to China’s claim to the South China Sea.
In October, British naval ships made a four-day visit to a Vietnamese port after a joint exercise in the South China Sea with several countries. This was preceded by a visit by three Australian warships to Vietnam for joint cooperation. The United States also continued to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and also helped increase local capacity by building a naval training center in Indonesia and relocating the Coast Guard to Vietnam.
However, there are uncertainties. The challenges include the continued and unique presence of research vessels operating in the overlapping exclusive economic zones of various applicants, as well as the presence of aircraft in declared air defense identification zones in other countries. . Other countries have also expressed concern about local laws, such as the amended Chinese maritime laws, which are being enforced by other parties in the region, increasing tensions. The risk of local conflict remains complicated by other issues such as piracy, human trafficking, lack of coordination in maritime scientific cooperation, approaches to climate change and humanitarian and disaster relief.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has taken a similar position in the South China Sea in the negotiations since 2020. Given the interests and capabilities of the United Kingdom, Australia and ASEAN members, there are many opportunities to develop cooperation.
Firstly, to issue regular declarations in favor of greater cooperation in the South China Sea on the basis of international law and participation in joint activities, such as naval visits and military exercises, in order to ensure greater security and respect for international law in the region.
Secondly, it is better to coordinate in tackling non-traditional maritime security issues, such as piracy, human trafficking and humanitarian and disaster relief. Thirdly, give priority to supporting further economic development with the countries of South-East Asia, in order to exploit the great potential of both parties. This may extend to joint efforts to improve maritime scientific research or address climate change.
Developments such as Quad and AUKUS seem to offer new forms of cooperation that can help support the centralization of ASEAN in supporting comprehensive development in the region. While more consideration is given to how “minilateral” initiatives and multilateral institutions can manage regional conflicts or potential conflicts in the long term, economic initiatives and regional development cooperation are equally important to achieve the same goal.
States must continue the multi-layered joint effort we witnessed last year. Many people in Vietnam are very grateful for the activities of the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries alone or in cooperation with other partners to promote stability and development in the region.
Dr. Lai Thai Binh is the Deputy Director General of the East Sea Institute (South China Sea), Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.
This article is part of a series examining regional maritime safety perspectives and can be found here courtesy of The Lowy Interpreter. The project is led by La Trobe Asia, Kings College London and the Griffith Asia Institute with the support of the UK High Commission in Canberra.