The Foreign Service Institute (FSI), together with the Institute for International Policy Studies (IIPS) of Japan and the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (IMLOS)-University of the Philippines (UP), hosted the workshop Towards Common Actions on Maritime Commons: Maritime Security in Asia Through Regional Cooperation at the Discovery Suites, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, on 15 June 2015.
The Track 2 event gathered a select group of experts from Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines to discuss the current regional maritime security situation and propose possible measures for cooperation. Also in attendance were embassy representatives and officials from the Philippine government and the armed forces.
The panel of experts agreed that there is no shortage of willingness among countries to cooperate on maritime security. However, efforts are hampered by the gaps in the level of awareness and understanding of maritime issues, differences in interpretation of international law, and disparities in respective national capabilities to implement regional mechanisms and agreements. Nevertheless, the panel noted that there now appears an emerging common understanding among many countries about how international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), should be applied in areas such as the South China Sea.
Participants in the workshop also raised their concern about the continued reclamation activities in the South China Sea given its impact to both regional stability and the marine environment. They stressed that countries should work closely together to discourage unilateral actions, ensure freedom of navigation and overflight and adhere to international law in resolving disputes and achieving regional peace and prosperity.
To promote cooperation, the workshop stressed the need for maritime domain awareness not only for areas that are under the jurisdiction of states, but also for those considered as shared domains and global commons. The workshop also noted that there are existing models of cooperation on issues such as marine pollution, information sharing, and cross border maritime traffic. These are “low-hanging fruits” that can be applied and expanded throughout the region.
The experts also noted that external powers and partners play a role in providing encouragement, common ground, capacity building and technical assistance to littoral states in both the South China Sea and East China Sea. Robust and regular activities of external partners as well as their enhanced cooperation with regional countries in safeguarding a rules-based order in the seas should also be welcomed.
Finally, the workshop emphasized the need to strengthen the maritime security architecture in the region to better manage maritime disputes in the long run. The development of an Asian Maritime Organization for Security and Cooperation (AMOSC), patterned after the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), could be studied and considered.