US, ASEAN commit to non-militarization in disputed sea

“We are dedicated to maintaining peace, security and stability in the region and to ensuring maritime security and safety, as well as freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the seas as described in the 1982 UNCLOS,” the ASEAN-US Special Summit 2022 Joint Vision Statement read, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
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MANILA, Philippines — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States have reaffirmed their commitment to ensure maritime security and safety, freedom of navigation, non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea.

“We are dedicated to maintaining peace, security and stability in the region and to ensuring maritime security and safety, as well as freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the seas as described in the 1982 UNCLOS,” the ASEAN-US Special Summit 2022 Joint Vision Statement read, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The statement, crafted in Washington late last week, also called for “unimpeded lawful maritime commerce.”

The two sides noted the United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/75/239 emphasizes how the UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.

UNCLOS is of strategic importance as the basis for national, regional and global action and cooperation in the marine sector, and its integrity needs to be maintained, the parties said.

“We are committed to advancing our cooperation in the maritime domain through ASEAN-led mechanisms,” the statement read.

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ASEAN and the US plan to forge new ties and promote cooperation and coordination among relevant agencies, including maritime law enforcement agencies, to collaborate to improve maritime domain awareness, search and rescue, maritime security and to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing through sharing of information, best practices and expertise, including technical assistance, which will complement and not duplicate existing mechanisms.

The two sides also committed to continuing efforts to protect, restore and sustainably manage the marine environment.

“We recognize the benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability and prosperity. We emphasize the importance of practical measures that could reduce tensions and the risk of accidents, misunderstandings and miscalculation,” they said.

ASEAN and the US stressed the importance of undertaking confidence building and preventive measures to enhance trust and confidence among parties.

They reaffirmed the need to pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including UNCLOS.

“We underscored the importance of the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in its entirety,” the joint statement read.

The need to maintain and promote an environment conducive to the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) negotiations was also emphasized as the two sides welcome further progress toward the early conclusion of an effective and substantive COC consistent with international law.

ASEAN member-states and the US gathered for the ASEAN-US Special Summit, the first-ever to be held in Washington, on May 12 to 13.

At the working lunch hosted by US Vice President Kamala Harris during the special summit on Saturday (Manila time), the Philippines thanked the US for being the most vocal partner in reaffirming the 2016 arbitral ruling.

In his speech, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who represented President Duterte, said the benefit of the arbitral award is not exclusive to the Philippines as it provides legal clarity to all countries with similar problematic maritime features.

“The US is our most vocal partner in reaffirming the 2016 Arbitral Award and upholding a rules-based international order. We deeply appreciate that. We most certainly welcome the US Senate’s call for a common ASEAN approach to reaffirm the Award,” Locsin said.

The US State Department said Washington will continue to stand by the historic South China Sea ruling despite earlier pronouncement of presumptive president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that he will shelve the decision and negotiate directly with China.

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