East Sea: a priority issue at ASEAN forum

(VOVWORLD) - The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat on Thursday and Friday in Chiang Mai, Thailand, drew Foreign Ministers of 10 member countries and the ASEAN Secretary-General. High on the agenda was the bloc’s cooperation to build an ASEAN Community, enhance economic connectivity, expand external relations, and maintain security in the East Sea.
East Sea: a priority issue at ASEAN forum - ảnh 1 Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh at the AMM Retreat 2019 (Photo: Son Nam/VNA)

The East Sea situation has been complicated by expanding militarization. The ASEAN Foreign Ministers expressed concern about land reclamation and other military activities which have eroded trust, intensified tensions, and threatened regional peace and security.

The East Sea, a shared concern

2018 saw China expanding its military activities in the East Sea, prompting closer attention to the region by western countries. Britain, Japan, and Australia have organized more military drills there. Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said: “The East Sea is a major concern not only of countries in the region but of many other countries worldwide. Anything that happens here impacts peace, security, and maritime and trade freedom in the East Sea. Last year expansion and militarization of several rock islands stirred concerns about possible conflicts which could destabilize the Asia Pacific region. This is why countries are stepping up military activities and maneuvers in the sea area.”

ASEAN maintains unity, common voice

ASEAN has made peace, security, and stability in the East Sea the focus of cooperative activities this year to promote self-restraint, non-militarization, and full compliance with the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the East Sea, toward the formation of the Code of Conduct in the East Sea and a first review of COC in line with international law. This was made explicit in the Joint Statement of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat.

Vietnam has a consistent policy of building a peaceful, stable environment for all countries' development. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said: “Vietnam’s view is that the East Sea is a shared concern and countries should take no action which may lead to a dispute. Vietnam respects international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We appreciate all initiatives to guarantee peace and stability in the East Sea.”

Le Dinh Tinh, Deputy Director of the East Sea Institute of the Academy of External Relations, spoke of the importance of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the East Sea.

“The UNCLOS includes mechanisms to resolve disputes, but the COC doesn’t. Vietnam and other ASEAN countries want the COC to include practical content and legally binding constraints to ensure peace and stability,” said Mr. Tinh. 

Last year, China and ASEAN agreed on a draft single text for COC negotiations which are expected to conclude by 2021.

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