International community deliberates way forward for trust and stability in South China Sea

Diplomats from 45 missions convene with academia, think tanks and civil society in Jakarta

Cover - International community deliberates way forward for trust and stability in South China Sea

The South China Sea (SCS) is one of the busiest sea lanes in the world, and is consequently critical to regional and global supply chains. Although the SCS can be considered a ‘global commons’, its competing territorial and maritime claims have also caused conflict amongst states in the Indo-Pacific.

As tensions continue to grow, the EU and its international partners and stakeholders have a key opportunity to engage in dialogue that charts the way forward for peace, security and freedom in the SCS. On 25 and 26 September 2023, the EU Mission to ASEAN organised a conference in Jakarta that initiated this discussion under the theme ‘Navigating Complexities: Building Regional Trust and Stability in the South China Sea’.

The event featured open and closed-door consultations, bringing together the diplomatic community, academia, think tanks and civil society for an informed, solution-oriented and collaborative dialogue to promote peaceful and constructive mechanisms to deal with uncertainties posed in the SCS.

EU Ambassador to ASEAN H.E. Mr Sujiro Seam welcomed nearly 130 participants to the open sessions on site and online, including heads of mission to ASEAN from Europe, South-East Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. He explained how, despite having no territorial claim in the SCS, the EU and its Member States share a common interest in upholding the principles of multilateralism and a rules-based international order, along with the freedom of navigation and overflight guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The EU has a direct stake in the region as its largest foreign direct investor and third-largest trading partner, with 40% of trade passing through the SCS. It has expressed concerns over recurring patterns of escalation in the maritime areas, while encouraging all parties to exercise self-restraint. As underscored in the EU-Indo Pacific Strategy, the EU and Indo-Pacific countries have a stake in each other's security and prosperity. The EU also supports the ASEAN-led process towards an effective and legally binding Code of Conduct in the SCS, which should not prejudice the interests of third parties.

At the conference, EEAS Special Envoy for the Indo-Pacific Mr Richard Tibbels emphasised that the security of the region is inextricable from the security of Europe. He presented on the EU's work in this context for inter-agency capacity building and cooperation with over 50 maritime security agencies across the Indo-Pacific.

Other keynote speakers included former Thai foreign minister H.E. Mr Kasit Piromya – who expressed thanks to the EU for standing by, contributing to and inspiring the development of ASEAN – along with professors from the National University of Singapore and American University, and representatives from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Chatham House.

Panel sessions further featured presentations from key opinion leaders at institutions such as the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue; Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique; IRIS; Naval War College, Goa; Sciences Po; and Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik.

Op eds surrounding the conference on its topic have been published in Asia Times and The Diplomat, with further expected in the coming days.

For the latest on the EU Mission to ASEAN’s work, check back regularly on Facebook, X and Instagram.

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