By Nadia Vong, TIME
Published: 19 Mar 2019 - 11:46 PM
Participants of the ASEAN Regional Forum Retreat
In the past few sessions, all countries discussed the issue of "Maritime Security and Cooperation” and raised three main areas of concerns, including territorial disputes, overexploitation of maritime resources and maritime crime and piracy. With the concerns in mind, two resolution drafts were proposed.
One of the biggest conflicts between the two resolutions is the debate over multilateral and bilateral talks. The Philippines, who supported bilateral talks stated that bilateral talks were more effective than multilateral talks, given the example of the Trump-Kim Summit which was a successful bilateral talk. However, Brunei remained its stance in stating that a third party was necessary especially during negotiations with China who was a big investor of many ASEAN countries which placed it in a more advantageous position compared to other countries.
The first resolution draft was proposed by China and Philippines. Their aims were to de-escalate tensions between countries, fulfil all countries’ interests in maritime security but at the same time ensure China protect their boundaries. Philippines also stated that this resolution was able to resolve all territorial disputes if the guidelines were abided with.
However, the resolution was questioned by many delegates from other countries. This included Vietnam who strongly opposed this resolution. They stated that this resolution only complied with China’s and Philippines’ interests and did not mention joint-agreement which they had been discussing throughout the process. Singapore also questioned the resolution for not being detailed in some clauses and not mentioning the protection of civilians, including the fishermen. They further elaborated by mentioning Clause 18 which included suspension of license for the illegal fishermen. Singapore stated that those illegal fishermen mostly suffered from poverty, hence the clause would only worsen their financial situation instead of solving the issue of illegal fishery.
Countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar also criticised China for reiterating the definition of the “nine-dash line” in Clause 6 as “the demarcation line claimed by China in the South China Sea, made since the founding of the People’s Republic of China”. Myanmar stated that this is a “total disrespect” towards the ARF. Despite China’s and Philippines’ efforts in clarifying that the Clause 6 was not a “legal statement” but just a definition and showing willingness to merge with other delegates’ ideas, the resolution failed.
The second resolution draft was proposed by Vietnam. They aimed to protect the benefits of civilians on behalf of ASEAN’s will and achieve equality in terms of political power and influence during negotiations such that one did not have dominance over another.
However, their opponents, China and Philippines expressed strong objections towards this resolution, particularly Article 3 which showed support towards multilateral talks. Besides the conflict on multilateral talks, Philippines and China also rejected some clauses that included the involvement of the United States of America as China viewed it as a “entire insult” and USA was irrelevant in these issues. This was given that negotiations between China and the USA was impossible as both are currently involved in a trade war.
Despite the strong objections of China and Philippines, the second resolution was modified and managed to pass as more than half of the clauses were accepted. The clauses that were not accepted included the article about multilateral talks and the establishment of a joint military base.
Towards the end of the session, all delegates held positive attitudes towards the impacts of this resolution. Although delegates from Brunei and Singapore remained their stance that multilateral talks were a more effective way to solve territorial disputes, they believed that this was the best solution and with the guidelines, the resolution would lead to fewer provocative actions taken in the region, stronger ties and more effective communication between countries. All delegates looked forward to a future agreement that could resolve the territorial disputes and strengthen unity between countries.