Security Implications for China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation and Good Ocean Governance in the South China Sea – Analysis – Eurasia Review
When Australia, the UK and the US formed AUKUS on September 15, 2021, many countries around the world expressed serious concerns that this trilateral deal could further escalate existing security tensions in the country. Indo-Pacific because of AUKUS’s expressed intention to assert itself with confidence. counter the growing political power of China in the region. Like the QUAD or the quadrilateral agreement of the United States, Australia, India and Japan, AUKUS can be seen as another containment approach by Western powers and their allies in the Indo-Pacific for strategically gang up on China in their attempt to prevent Beijing from expanding. its political influence in Asia and beyond.
Some Asian countries have warned that AUKUS could unnecessarily start a new arms race in the region which has been the fulcrum of competition between the great powers. Others have expressed fears that the establishment of AUKUS could undermine the principle of the zone of peace, freedom and neutrality championed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as AUKUS may intensify great power rivalries with Southeast Asia as a playing field. AUKUS may also hijack the principle of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Southeast Asia, as the trilateral agreement aims to equip the Australia nuclear submarines. In addition, AUKUS, aimed specifically at challenging China’s maritime activities in the South China Sea, may also disrupt planned and existing maritime cooperation activities between China and ASEAN aimed at promoting good ocean governance by South China Sea.
Prior to the establishment of AUKUS, China and ASEAN had already promoted functional cooperation to peacefully manage territorial and maritime jurisdictional disputes in the region through the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties at Sea (DOC). from southern China. Rather than escalating conflicts, China and ASEAN agree to continue cooperation. The areas of cooperation identified in the DOC are the protection of the maritime environment, marine scientific research, the safety of navigation and communications at sea, search and rescue operations and the fight against transnational crimes, including international terrorism. Although China and ASEAN have encountered difficulties in the implementation of the DOC due to external constraints and domestic considerations, they nonetheless persistently committed to continue the implementation of the DOC as they negotiate currently the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South. China Sea to be concluded next year. Both the DOC and the COC uphold the mantra of the duty to cooperate in order to achieve good governance of the oceans pending the final resolution of the conflicts in the South China Sea.
The idea of good governance of the oceans in the South China Sea promoted by China and ASEAN is in strict accordance with international efforts and standards to manage the world’s oceans and seas through responsible, responsible and responsible use. transparent marine resources in a way that ensures ecological balance while achieving economic prosperity at national and regional levels. In fact, the principle of good ocean governance has been on the maritime agenda of China-ASEAN cooperation since they established their dialogue partnerships in the 1990s.
As a confidence-building measure to peacefully manage conflicts in the South China Sea, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for strengthening China-ASEAN maritime cooperation in 2012. Areas of cooperation include maritime economy, connectivity of infrastructure, scientific research and environmental protection, search and rescue operations and navigation safety. From these, President Xi Jingping announced in 2013 his vision of a “new maritime silk route for the 21st Century ”, where China used the China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund to finance 17 maritime cooperation projects that support good ocean governance. More recently, China released its “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative” in June 2017, which advances good ocean governance in the South China Sea. At the ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on June 7, 2021 marking the 30e anniversary of their dialogue relations, the officials of China and ASEAN reaffirmed the importance of good ocean governance in their maritime cooperation efforts.
At the non-governmental and think-tank levels, the establishment of the China-Southeast Asia Research Center on the South China Sea (CSARC) has the primary objective of maintaining good governance of the oceans by conducting research and studies. aimed at promoting cooperation in the South. China Sea, in particular in the areas which are already mostly in the DOC: traditional and non-traditional security, protection of the marine environment, research on the maritime environment, safety of navigation and communications at sea, joint development and management of natural resources, and crisis prevention and management. With the support of the previously mentioned China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund, CSARC even organizes annual international training through the China-ASEAN Academy on Ocean Law and Governance which aims not only to build the capacity of participants. to pursue good ocean governance, but also to build trust, enhance mutual trust and promote functional cooperation between China, ASEAN and other countries in Asia-Pacific and beyond. Prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic, CSARC had already implemented 5 Academy training programs as of November 2019.
In short, China and ASEAN have engaged in official and unofficial activities aimed at pursuing maritime cooperation and good ocean governance in order to ease tensions and peacefully manage conflicts in the South China Sea. AUKUS needs to be aware of and respectful of these exemplary efforts so as not to undermine its good goals of promoting friendship and cooperation in the South China Sea.
To allay the fears of Southeast Asian countries about its security implications, AUKUS should also adopt the principle of the duty to cooperate in the South China Sea as enshrined in the DOC and the draft COC negotiating text. Otherwise, AUKUS will only further complicate the current regional security dynamics and disrupt the ongoing China-ASEAN maritime cooperation, which is essential for the shared enjoyment of peace and prosperity in the South China Sea.
The author is president of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS) and a board member of the China-Southeast Asia Research Center in the South China Sea (CSARC). He is a lecturer in the Department of International Studies at Miriam College and an adjunct professor at the National Institute of South China Sea Studies (NISCSS). This article has been prepared for presentation at the New Inclusive Asia Dialogue 2021 with a theme “Geopolitical and security implications of AKUS on ASEAN” which was held virtually on October 26, 2021.