DOC guideline and pressure from East Sea tension

Created 23 August 2011
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When all sides need a political document to cool down tension in the East Sea, like the guidance document for the implementation of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), seeking a compromise formula is a compulsory.

 

On July 21, 2011, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China reached agreement on the guidance document for the implementation of the DOC in Bali, Indonesia. This is considered the great effort of related parties in controlling and managing disputes in the East Sea, which has become tense and attracted the international community’s attention since early this year. 

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said that this agreement is a diplomatic achievement. The guidance document will create the process for dialogues and building mutual trust among countries involving in the East Sea disputes. 

The Indonesian Foreign Minister said that the guidance document will convene the world that ASEAN and China can avoid conflicts and solve disputes by peaceful solutions. The signing of that document also proves that ASEAN and China have realized their common interests. 

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said that this agreement shows the determination, trust and ability of China and ASEAN in promoting peace and stability in the East Sea together by implementing the DOC. 

Vietnamese Foreign Minister Assistant Pham Quang Vinh said that this is a good and meaningful start for further dialogue and cooperation to promote stability and trust in the region. 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the guideline is the first important step to a final diplomatic solution. 

It is no doubt that the guideline was signed timely, contributing to ease tension in the East Sea. The guideline is the stretch of the DOC on the rough road to a binding document – the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC) but it can be the delay of the current situation in the East Sea. All depend on the initiative, determination and goodwill of related parties in the East Sea. 

The DOC is the first multilateral agreement on managing and restraining the East Sea disputes, which include disputes between Vietnam and China since the early century and with other parties in the second half of the 20thcentury until now. 

There are two types of conflicts in the East Sea: Dispute over sea boundaries and overlapping continental shelves among countries with opposite or adjacent coasts. These two types of disputes were formed at different times, with different contents and levels, and taking place in different geographical places. 

After China used force in 1974 and 1988 and the signing of an oil exploration contract in Vietnam’s continental shelf in 1992 between China and an US company – Crestone, ASEAN had the first initiative to prevent conflict in the East Sea with the East Sea Declaration 1992. This declaration for the first time calls for countries involving the East Sea disputes and ASEAN to build a code of conduct as a measure to build trust in the region. 

Vietnam’s admission to the ASEAN and the clash at the Mischief between the Phillipines and China in 1995 were the catalyst for Vietnam and the Philippines to take firm moves. In 1996, ASEAN officially suggested to compile the COC for the region. 

China did not agree to negotiation a COC, arguing that ASEAN and China had had the statement on cooperation direction to the 21st century signed in December in 1997 in Kuala Lumpur. 

After making statement on the baseline of the Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago in 1996, which violated Vietnam’s sovereignty, China ratified the law on exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf 1998 and imposed the ban of fishing in 1999 to strengthen its presence in the East Sea. 

China’s acts made others worried and stirred up a new arms race and occupation in the East Sea. Taiwan also approved its law on territorial waters and adjacent areas in 1998, the law on EEZ and continental shelf in 1999. Malaysia occupied two more banks in June 1999. Vietnam and the Philippines strengthened their forces on islands and banks that they occupied. 

The tension in the East Sea at that time forced diplomats to seek a solution for the region. The codes of conduct signed between China and the Philippines, the Philippines and Vietnam in 1995 acted as the basis for ASEAN to ask China to negotiation a common code of conduct for ASEAN and China. 

However, negotiation between the two sides reached half of the road. They signed the DOC in 2002 after over two years of negotiation and ten years of nurturing the idea to temporarily satisfy all parties and to ease the tension in the East Sea.

 However, a product that was born prematurely could not ease tension. All parties take advantage of DOC’s loose regulations to quibble their activities to strengthen their presence in the East Sea. The China-Philippine seismic surveillance agreement 2004 was the serious violation to the DOC’s informing of each other principle, threatening to break the foundation of DOC 2002. The signing of the three-sided agreement on joint seismic surveillance in defined area in the East Sea 2005, thanks to Vietnam’s firm struggling, could bring about peace within a short period of time. 

China’s Kantan-03 oil rig and South China Sea surveillance ship infringed into Vietnam’s continental shelf very often. China also forced foreign oil firms which signed oil exploration contracts with Vietnam to stop their operation. China’s establishment of Sanya city which includes Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos and made Olympic torch-procession through Hoang Sa made Vietnamese angry in December 2007. At the same time, Taiwan expanded its occupation in Ban Than reef and planed to build a runway on Itu Aba island. Six projects under DOC 2002 could not be implemented. ASEAN and China disagreed with each others on the second principle in the draft guidance document of the DOC. 

The East Sea situation began burning in 2009 when American ship Impeccable clashed with Chinese ships and China protested the submission of the joint documents on the border of Vietnam-Malaysia continental shelf, and Vietnam’s documents of its continental shelf border before the deadline of May 13 2009, set by the United Nations. China’s protesting diplomatic note dated May 7, 2009, was accompanied with a map with the U-shaped line, claiming 80 percent of the East Sea. This was the first time China showed the U-shaped line map to the international community. After that, it has applied a lot of measures to establish the U-shaped line in reality. 

The year 2010 was the confrontation between China’s “core interest” statement and the US’ “national interest” in the East Sea at the 17th ASEAN Region Forum (ARF) in Hanoi. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi accused the US to intervene and intimidate others. “China is a big country and others are small, that’s the truth”. China unilaterally expanded its fishing ban in the East Sea from May 15 to August 31 annually and seized fishing boats of Vietnam and the Philippines which were operating legally in the East Sea. 

Tension reached its peak in the first half of 2011. In March 2011, China hindered a Filippino surveillance ship at the Reed Bank. In May 2011, Chinese patrol ships cut cables of Vietnam’s Binh Minh 02 and Viking II ships in Vietnam’s continental shelf. This act was serious infringement into Vietnam’s territorial waters, which urged unprompted demonstrations of Vietnamese people in seven consecutive Sunday of June and July 2011. 

Neighbors do not believe in China’s reassurance of building an aircraft carrier for training. China’s show-off of its muscle to small countries and its absurd claims in the East Sea cause deep worries for the international community and discontentment for people in small countries, as well as harm China’s image in the world arena. 

Tension in the East Sea and the conflict at Thailand-Cambodia border have become challenges for ASEAN on its way to build a strong and united ASEAN community. 

In that context, it is an urgent need to have a diplomatic agreement to cool down tension in the East Sea. Conditions for the signing of DOC 2002 appeared at higher level, urging the approval of the guideline for implementing DOC 2002. However, the guideline is a small step between DOC and COC. 

The ten-point DOC is supplemented by the guideline with eight points, including: 

1. The implementation of the DOC should be carried out in a step-by-step approach in line with the provisions of the DOC 

2. The parties to the DOC will continue to promote dialogue and consultations in accordance with the spirit of the DOC 

3. The implementation of activities or projects as provided for in the DOC should be clearly identified 

4. The participation in the activities or projects should be carried out on a voluntary basis 

5. Initial activities to be undertaken under the ambit of the DOC should be confidence-building measures 

6. The decision to implement concrete measures or activities of the DOC should be based on consensus among parties concerned, and lead to the eventual realization of a Code of Conduct (COC) 

7. In the implementation of the agreed projects under the DOC, the services of the experts and eminent persons, if necessary, will be sought to provide specific input on the projects concerned 

8. Progress of the implementation of the agreed activities and projects under the DOC shall be reported annually to the ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting (PMC) 

At the first meeting of the ASEAN-China working group on implementing DOC on August 4-5, 2005 in Manila, ASEAN’s draft document included seven points: 

1. The implementation of the DOC should be carried out in a step-by-step approach in line with the provisions of the DOC 

2. ASEAN will continue its existing practice on consultation among members before meeting with China 

3. The implementation of activities or projects as provided for in the DOC should be clearly identified 

4. The participation in the activities or projects should be carried out on a voluntary basis 

5. Initial activities to be undertaken under the ambit of the DOC should be confidence-building measures

6. The decision to implement concrete measures or activities of the DOC should be based on consensus among parties concerned, and lead to the eventual realization of a Code of Conduct (COC) 

7. In the implementation of the agreed projects under the DOC, the services of the experts and eminent persons, if necessary, will be sought to provide specific input on the projects concerned.

 

The DOC 2002:

1. The Parties reaffirm their commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in the Southeast Asia, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, and other universally recognized principles of international law which shall serve as the basic norms governing state-to-state relations; 

2. The Parties are committed to exploring ways for building trust and confidence in accordance with the above-mentioned principles and on the basis of equality and mutual 

3. The Parties reaffirm their respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation in and over flight above the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; 

4. The parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; 

5. The parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner. 

6. Pending the peaceful settlement of territorial and jurisdictional disputes, the parties concerned undertake to intensify efforts to seek ways, in the spirit of cooperation and understanding, to build trust and confidence between and among them, including: 

a. holding dialogues and exchanges of views as appropriate between their defense and military officials; 

b. ensuring just and humane treatment of all persons who are either in dangeror in distress;. 

c. notifying, on a voluntary basis, other Parties concerned of any impending joint/combined military exercise; and 

d. exchanging, on a voluntary basis, relevant information. 

7. Pending a comprehensive and durable settlement of the disputes, the parties concerned may explore or undertake cooperative activities. These may include the following: 

a. marine environmental protection;

b. marine scientific research;

c. safety of navigation and communication at sea;

d. search and rescue operations; and

e. combating transnational crime, including, but not limited to trafficking in illicit drugs, piracy and armed robbery at sea, and illegal traffic in arms. 

The modalities, scope and locations, in respect of bilateral and multilateral cooperation, there should be agreed upon by the parties concerned prior to their actual implementation. 

8. The Parties concerned stand ready to continue their consultations and dialogues concerning relevant issues, through modalities to be agreed by them, including regular consultations on the observance of this Declaration, for the purpose of promoting good neighborliness and transparency, establishing harmony, mutual understanding and co-operation, and facilitating peaceful resolution of disputes among them; 

9. The Parties undertake to respect the provisions of this Declaration and take actions consistent therewith; 

10. The Parties encourage other countries to respect the principles contained in this Declaration; 

11. The Parties concerned reaffirm that the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea would further promote peace and stability in the region and agree to work, on the basis of consensus, towards the eventual attainment of this objective.

 

 Source: VNN

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