Inaugural Symposium on Maritime Cooperation and Ocean Governance Held in Haikou

From 5 to 6 November 2020, the Inaugural Symposium on Maritime Cooperation and Ocean Governance was held in Haikou, co-organized by the National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS), China-Southeast Asia Research Center on the South China Sea (CSARC), Institute for China-America Studies (ICAS) and sponsored by the China Institute of the University of Alberta. It brought together over 500 participants from about 30 countries and regions, including experts, scholars, diplomats, former politicians and representatives from international organizations either physically present in Haikou or virtually present via the online conferencing system.

The two-day symposium is comprised of seven sessions, covering topics including “Global Ocean Governance and Regional Practices,” “Recent Development and Hotspot Issues in the South China Sea,” “Maritime Security Cooperation and Risk Management,” “Regional Order Construction in the South China Sea,” “Maritime Cooperation: Current Practices and the Future,” “Frontier Research on Maritime Issues and Capacity Building for Ocean Governance” and “New Ideas and Initiatives for Ocean Governance.”

Dr. Wu Shicun, President of NISCSS and Chairman of the Board of CSARC delivered opening remarks. H. E. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Former President of the Philippines, Ambassador Fu Ying, Chairwoman of Center for International Strategy and Security of Tsinghua University (CIIS-Tsinghua) and Michael Lodge, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) delivered keynote speeches at the opening ceremony. Mr. Stephen Orlins, President of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, founder of the Asian Institute of International Law, also delivered keynote speeches on the future of China U.S. relations and dispute management in the South China Sea respectively on different sessions.

In her remarks, H.E. Madam Arroyo stressed the importance of China-Philippine relations, and the necessity to adopt a multifaceted perspective and multi-dimensional approach in dealing with such bilateral relations in order to achieve mutually beneficial results. She reviewed the trilateral cooperation on joint seismic undertaking among the Philippines, China and the Vietnam as well as the successful experience of joint development between Malaysia and Thailand. And she held the view that joint development does not undermine the legal rights to the claims of related parties. She also called for promoting functional cooperation including fishery resources management among littoral countries of the South China Sea, so as to protect environmental sustainability and enhance prosperity.

Ambassador Fu Ying pointed out that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic reminds people the urgency to enhance global governance and improve the efficiency of international coordination mechanism, which is also the case for ocean governance. Multilateralism is the only approach for the international community to tackle such new problems and challenges. The ultimate goal of the maritime cooperation and ocean governance is to arrive at harmonious coexistence between the ocean and human beings and for the common good of mankind. To achieve this goal in the South China Sea, peace and stability are fundamental. Region countries should hold a broader view beyond the zero-sum game and seek for win-win and collaborative development. Ambassador Fu also elaborated China’s South China Sea policy, and stressed that the “duel track approach” is the most realistic and feasible way to manage and solve the South China Sea dispute.

Secretary-General Michael Lodge elaborated on how the ISA, as a successful model of multilateral cooperation on global governance, has addressed various challenges brought upon by the tremendous demand for seabed minerals due to global green transition. Through such process, the ISA has fulfilled its role in developing rules, regulations and procedures ‘necessary for the conduct of activities in the Area as they progress.’ By following an evolutionary and incremental approach to regulation formation, and adopting an exhaustive process of consultation and contributions from many different interests, the ISA has been able to properly respond to environmental concerns and ensure equitable sharing of benefits. He stressed the importance of pushing forward multilateralism and strengthening international cooperation in global ocean governance. And he highly commended President Xi Jinpin’s view that “Global governance should be based on the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits so as to ensure that all countries enjoy equal rights and opportunities and follow the same rules.”

Dr. Wu pointed out in his remarks that we are at a special time when countries around the world are fighting Covid-19 and promoting economic recovery and a return to normal life. It is highly relevant and of far-reaching significance for us to gather here and discuss how to deal with the challenges facing the current global ocean governance and sustainable development. On the one hand, the human society is confronted with unprecedented crises in managing environmental issues including sea level rise, depletion of fishery resources, and marine litter. On the other hand, the trend of deglobalization has curbed the willingness and momentum for international maritime cooperation and brought disruption to ocean governance system based on multilateralism. How to move forward against such a trend has become primarily the most important issue. This symposium aims to establish an international academic platform dedicated to marine issues, ocean governance and international cooperation, and offer the “South China Sea experiences and solutions” to global ocean governance. And it is intended to pool wisdom and strength to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 14 of the United Nations—conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development and to develop a maritime community with shared future.

Teresa Cheng argued that the key to continued peace and security in the South China Sea lies not in the focus of disputes or dispute settlement and resolution, but on exploring opportunities in collaboration, cooperation and commitment to realizing the common interests of the littoral states. Compared to the “western approach” relying on confrontation and international law, the “Asian approach” based on mutual understanding is more conducive to fostering mutual trust and cooperation through peaceful coexistence. The signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and negotiation of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) have fully demonstrated that the key to peace and stability in the South China Sea is interest coordination and pragmatic cooperation among relevant parties in the region. And the intervention of external actors only aggravates the regional tension. Based on the principle of seeking common ground and setting aside differences, China and ASEAN countries should seek to enhance mutual trust and expand common interest so as to develop favorable conditions for dispute settlement.