US Assistant Secretary: COC in East Sea should be open to outsiders

VietNamNet Bridge - Acting Assistant Secretary of State responsible for the issues in East Asia - Pacific Joseph Yun said that the negotiation process of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the East Sea should be opened to outsiders, because the East Sea is not only the matter between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but also the global issue.

Claims of sovereignty must be consistent with UNCLOS

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Acting Assistant Secretary of State responsible for the issues in East Asia - Pacific Joseph Yun.

As Kurt Campbell's successor in the role of assistant secretary in charge of East Asian - Pacific issues of Secretary of State John Kerry, the speech by Joseph Yun at the International Conference on the East Sea held by CSIS in early June received attention because it is seen as an indication of U.S. policy towards the East Sea in the second term of President Obama.

The speech by Mr. Yun confirms six critical points of the U.S. policy towards the East Sea dispute. First of all, the U.S. does not support any side in the claims and disputes of sovereignty and territorial waters. However, the claims must be consistent with international law, particularly the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Yun emphasized the important point that the claims to maritime sovereignty must be based on soil characteristics which that country possesses.

Although the U.S. does not support any side in the East Sea dispute, this country has huge benefits from the settlement of disputes by the parties concerned. The U.S. diplomat mentioned two fundamental interests of America - freedom of navigation and the right to exploit natural resources in the East Sea in a legal way. Thus, the U.S. protests any party that threatens, forces or use of force in the East Sea disputes and support the pursuit of peaceful means, such as diplomatic negotiations, mediation, with the help of third parties or international arbitration. Referring to the initiatives of the Philippines to bring the case to the international court on the Law of the Sea, Mr. Yun recommended that if a related party chooses international arbitration, the concerned parties should not take retaliatory measures by threats or compulsion.

COC negotiations should open for outsiders

About future disputes over the East Sea conflict, Mr. Yun stressed the importance of maintaining the status quo and recommended related parties not take any unilateral acts to change the status quo.

He said that the COC is the key to bring peaceful resolutions for the disputes and prevent conflicts in the East Sea. The U.S. officials hoped that the two sides can begin formal discussions on COC this year.

According to Mr. Yun, the COC cannot be the version two of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC). To make the COC effective, in one side, it needs to have a certain legal binding, on the other side, the negotiations of the COC should open to outside opinions because the East Sea is not only the matter between China and ASEAN, but also the global playing field.

Related to the comments of some attendants that the COC negotiation process is too slow, Mr. Yun noted that it took 10 years for the DOC to be implemented since the signing, so the COC will also require more time and the effort of all parties. One reason why this process is so long is the "ASEAN way" that seeks consensus from all parties.

Apparently not being satisfied with this explanation, expert Bonnie Glaser questioned whether the U.S. should encourage other countries, whether having or not having claims of sovereignty to voice support for the use of international arbitration to settle conflicts as the way the Philippines is pursuing in order to put pressure on China. So far, only the U.S., Japan and Vietnam have publicly supported this initiative of the Philippines.

Mr. Yun said that ASEAN unity on this issue is significant and it may take time to achieve a common ASEAN stance on this issue. ASEAN is facing many challenges to reach agreement because there are many different perspectives among the claimants.

Mr. Yun recommended being patient with the COC process because sovereignty disputes often last long and difficult to have radical solutions.

"It is important to maintain dialogue and negotiation between the parties so that security and stability in the region is not disturbed. Maybe someone will criticize that speaking is only speaking but in the context of complex and tense disputes, the dialogue is not a bad idea," said Yun.

Proactive engagement

The six points that Yun presented at the 3rd International Conference on the East Sea dispute is the continuation of the East Sea policy that was established in the first term of President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Not criticizing China directly, the speech by Yun indirectly mentioned this country when he asserted that the U.S. protests the use of threats, coercion and force, as well as the excessive demands of sovereignty that are not based on soil characteristics they possess (according to UNCLOS, countries have the right to claim 12 nautical mile territorial waters around the islands that they legally own. Consequently, the U-shaped line that China claims has no legal value – the author).

However, many scholars at the conference said that the US should make more proactive engagement in the East Sea dispute. They highlighted the fact that China has always ignored the US’ arguments such as maintaining the status quo, not threatening or threatening to use force ... Since then, a number of scholars questioned that is it the time for the US to consider a more effective strategy framework to make pressure on China to force this country to behave accordingly.

In response, Mr. Yun said the current policy on the East Sea of the US is compatible with the situation. Despite some clashes and tensions between the parties, it was said that "this is not a black or white issue."

He emphasized that the important thing is that the awareness of the East Sea in the U.S. leaders is increasing and the US is making a more proactive engagement with ASEAN more actively. He said that in June Secretary of State Kerry would attend the ASEAN Summit and the ARF in Brunei and visited some Southeast Asian countries. This October, President Obama will attend the East Asia Summit. Both trips, according to Mr. Yun, are the affirmation of the positive engagement policy of the U.S. with the region from the highest levels of leadership. ASEAN is a key pillar of the U.S. policy on rebalancing and any risk in the East Sea will affect the development of the global economy. Mr. Yun said in meetings of all levels, Americans always urged China to negotiate the COC.

"I understand that disputes over islands and territorial waters will never be resolved completely, but at least the parties can create a working framework that regional stability is not disturbed. That is the goal that we aim to," the Acting Assistant Secretary of State confirmed.

The International Conference on the East Sea with the theme "Control tension in the East Sea" was held by the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC in early June, with the participation of about 250 delegates including officials, scholars, leading researchers in the East Sea from the U.S., China, India, Japan, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Vo Minh

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