The Foreign Service Institute (FSI), together with the Department of Foreign Affairs – Office of ASEAN Affairs, organized a Seminar on the Implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) on 28-29 August 2017 at the Conrad Manila, Pasay City, Philippines. It was a follow-up to the Seminar-Workshop on the Implementation of the DOC held in 2015 in Manila, which dealt with Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Declaration.
Pursuant to Paragraph 6 of the DOC, the Track 1.5 Seminar discussed ways forward in realizing practical cooperation in the South China Sea. The activity allowed for the exchange of perspectives and insights on managing the South China Sea among senior diplomats from ASEAN Member States and China, as well as technical practitioners and experts from the academe and think tanks.
In his opening remarks, FSI Director-General Claro S. Cristobal emphasized that the most pressing challenge for the region is the sustainability of the South China Sea in the face of increased human dependency on the area. While the contentious issues of the South China Sea disputes are taking their own course, he said that ASEAN and China must step away from a myopic view and look into the broader horizons of long-term sustainability and security.
The speakers noted that Paragraph 6 is essential to the purpose and objective of the DOC, which is to promote a friendly and harmonious environment in the South China Sea despite the existence of disputes. Cooperation on the protection of the marine environment, ensuring safety of navigation, and combating transnational crimes at sea are a necessity and obligation especially of countries in the region. Mutual trust and confidence among states are therefore crucial for practical and functional cooperation to thrive. Some speakers also noted that disrespect for law erodes trust and confidence; law should not and cannot be ignored, as it is fundamental to all cooperative activities in the South China Sea.
Furthermore, the speakers agreed that despite the abundance of goodwill among states, there remains an insufficiency of concrete activities towards practical cooperation. Ratification of relevant international instruments and rationalization at the national and international level are necessary steps toward improving regional cooperation.
The Seminar concluded with an emphasis on increasing the number of functional and operational areas of cooperation to overcome mutual distrust and suspicion. Instead of debating over competing claims in the South China Sea, states must devote energy and resources to combating the real enemy in the region: transnational threats.