Foreign Affairs Research Specialists Mary Fides A. Quintos and Darlene V. Estrada of the Foreign Service Institute’s (FSI) Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) participated in an international conference titled “Belt and Road Initiative and Promoting Regional Security: Turning Risks of Conflict into Opportunities for Cooperation” held on 26-27 April 2018 in Malaysia.
The conference was organized by the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA) and the China Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS) as an avenue to exchange insights on the role of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in promoting maritime security cooperation in Southeast Asia. It featured four sessions that highlighted discussions on BRI developments in Southeast Asia, opportunities and challenges in broadening cooperation between ASEAN member states and China, the role of BRI in addressing maritime disputes, and measures to promote a better maritime security environment in promoting BRI cooperation.
Key issues that emerged during the discussions include the need to address suspicions attached to the objectives of the initiative, the implications of BRI on ASEAN centrality, BRI implementation alongside the developments concerning the Quad and the Indo-Pacific Strategy, and the importance of sustainable development and quality of infrastructure. These concerns notwithstanding, the BRI provides an array of opportunities for cooperation between China and ASEAN member states. Among the identified areas of cooperation are human resources and administrative capability enhancement, digital-cyber maritime connectivity, crime control mechanisms, and joint Freedom of Navigation (FON) patrols.
Ms. Estrada delivered a presentation on how the BRI could aid in addressing maritime disputes. She stated that China’s document titled “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative” should complement existing frameworks on ASEAN-China maritime cooperation, particularly the Declaration on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, and contribute to the conclusion of a Code of Conduct.
The two-day event was attended by government officials, experts, academics, and diplomats from the region.