Report on Maritime Security and ASEAN Political Security Community 2025_22 August 2016

The workshop on maritime security and ASEAN political security community 2015 was organized by the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace with the support from the Asia Foundation. There were 55 participants from the government ministries, foreign embassies, local and international NGOs, universities and media attended the workshop, and three speakers from ASEAN namely Captain (ret.) Martin Sebastian, Center Head and Fellow, the Malaysia Institute of Maritime Affairs (MIMA) (session 1), Miss Lee Ying Hui, Research Fellow in the Maritime Security Programs at RSIS in Singapore (session 2), and Dr. Ha Anh Tuan, Director for the Centre of Policy Analysis, Institute of South China Sea Studies, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam (session 3).

        Current State of Maritime Security in the Region

  1. Maritime security is paramount to ASEAN community building. The ASEAN member statesneed to work closer together to ensure peace and stability in the region in order to develop the economy and improve the livelihood of more than 600 million people. Maritime disputes and tensions are posing serious threat to ASEAN political security community building.
  2. Maritime security involves both traditional and non-traditional security dimensions. ASEAN-led security arrangement mainly focus on non-traditional security issues such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), search and rescue, and piracy.  ASEAN does not have effective role in managing traditional security issues, particularly territorial and sovereignty disputes.
  3. Maritime security cannot be detached from mainland security given two-third of maritime crimes start and end on land.  Good order at sea requires good governance on land. It is necessary to understand land-sea security nexus. Multi-stakeholder partnership (the partnership among government, private sector, civil society organizations, international non-governmental organizations) for maritime sustainable development needs to be forged and strengthened
  4. The narrative on the South China Sea issue needs to move beyond sovereignty disputes. We need to think about how to improve the wellbeing of the communities by addressing social needs and concerns. Depletion of marine resources is a matter of regional concern. Regional cooperation on food security needs to be strengthened. Establishment of real estate management framework in the South China Sea should be considered. We should create a comprehensive action plan to promote the wellbeing of the coastal communities.  Joint fishery agreement in the South China Sea is an option.
  5. The ruling made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) has significant implications and impacts on regional maritime security. ASEAN is at fault for the failure inreaching common understanding on the relevance of the PCA’s ruling. ASEAN does not have precedence to issue any joint statement in support of any country with regards to the international court ruling or arbitration.  The PCA’s ruling is binding but without enforcement. ASEAN is not mature in handling such complex maritime disputes. Therefore ASEAN is more peripheral than central in terms of dealing with traditional security issues. ASEAN needs to find a stable dynamic equilibrium between geopolitics with geo-economics.
  6. ASEAN and China need to work closer in promoting mutual benefits and win-win cooperation, while finding ways to manage and resolve the disputes. ASEAN needs to work closely with China to ensure that China is part of the management of the common marine estate.
  7. The ongoing bilateral talks between China and the Philippines are a welcome move. Although still at an early stage of trust building and opportunities exploration, it is a positive step towards the diffusion or de-escalation of tensions. ASEAN has certain leverage in supporting the bilateral dialogue and negotiation between the Philippines and China.

        Freedom of Navigation

  1. Managing maritime security is one of the core elements of ASEAN’s political security community blueprint.Maritime economy is essential for the wellbeing of ASEAN people. Freedom of navigation is the foundation of regional development. No country in the region including China will impede the freedom of navigation.
  2. The main challenge is the differences between China and the US in interpreting and implementing the Freedom of Navigation (FON). China defines FON in a restricted way under UNCLOS.  However, the US has a broad definition of FON. China believes that American military activities in China’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) violates China’s sovereign rights and the US’s surveillance on China’s main coastlines threaten China’s security. The US maintains that its military activities in the South China Sea fall within FON and international laws and practices.
  3. ASEAN needs to find a pathway to get out from being trapped into great power politics. ASEAN needs to stand firm on UNCLOS in interpreting and implementing FON. ASEAN may need to have its own elaboration on and approach towards FON. ASEAN needs to have its clear statements on FON in its future reference to the South China Sea.

        ASEAN’s Role in Maritime Security

  1. ASEAN has played important role in promoting regional cooperation on maritime security. There are multi-layered regional mechanisms in managing maritime issues, including the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) and ADMM Plus, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Maritime Forum (AMS), and East Asia Summit (EAS). However, ASEAN does not have a unity on the approach towards the disputes in the South China Sea. Such a lack of unity makes ASEAN less effective in managing maritime security issues.
  2. The South China Sea dispute is a critical test for ASEAN. ASEAN has limited success in managing the dispute. Each member state has its own national core interests. The failure of reaching a consensus on the South China Sea dispute has weakened ASEAN’s regional position and leverage.
  3. For the small countries, international laws are regarded as the tools to protect their interests and sovereignty. International rules help small countries to maintain their certain leverage vis-à-vis major powers. ASEAN needs to promote and uphold rules-based international order. There is no agreement among the discussants on whether ASEAN should make a reference to the PCA’s ruling in its future documents. There is a concern that if the ASEAN’s agenda is dominated by the PCA’s ruling and the South China Sea disputeASEAN’s unity will be at greater risk.
  4. ASEAN and China need to work together towards the realization of the Code of Conduct (COC) as soon as possible. COC is expected to be a binding code to manage or restraint the behavior of the claimants by including an effective enforcement measure in the code. The new elements in the COC also include the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) and hotline communication. However, there is no exact timeline to conclude the COC. It is expected by 2017, the framework on COC will be adopted.
  5. ASEAN needs to strengthen its capacity to conduct research and promote comprehensive understanding on the South China Sea. Enhancing the capacity of ASEAN diplomats on maritime security, maritime governance, and international maritime laws is essential.
  6. Rules-based international order is ASEAN’s common interest and vision but reality on the ground shows that ASEAN is not taking concrete steps towards building a genuine rules-based community. One of the structural constraints in implementing a rules-based ASEAN is the principle of non-interference.
  7. ASEAN needs to find innovative way in balancing national, regional, global, and great power interests. Maintaining ASEAN’s unity is the core task of the ASEAN leaders. ASEAN needs to stay united and worked out smart pathway to navigate through these geopolitical troubles, turbulences, and uncertainties. ASEAN does matter for future regional peace and stability. As the new world order is being constructed, ASEAN needs to find its place and position in shaping the new world order, which serves the interests of small and medium-sized countries.