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Sailing a Course through Contested Waters

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Picture by the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines

The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines hosted the above virtual speaker series. The objective of the webinar is to gather perspectives of the maritime experts on maritime challenges, marine environmental crises, and opportunities in the South China Sea. At the end of the webinar, speakers shared their thoughts and actionable recommendations on how to address the South China Sea claims in accordance with international law and what needs to be done to strengthen the multilateral negotiations among the claimants on fisheries management, environmental cooperation, and oil and gas development. The views expressed by the panelists during this discussion are theirs alone and do not represent that of the government or institute.

The first speaker, Dr. Jay Batongbacal talked about the development in the West Philippine Sea incidents. He noted that the incidents have escalated the tensions in the South China Sea (SCS), in which aggressive activities can be seen as countries battled the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Nguyen Hung Son opined that despite the pandemic, the developments in the SCS are not first-time incidences. This was seen that in the past and it is a regular feature of the assertiveness in the region.

Ms. Sumathy Permal shared concerns for Malaysia as some of the presence in the SCS was not expected this time. She then detailed the unilateral actions in the South China Sea from 2009 to 2020.

The moderator, Mr. Gregory Poling noted that it is crucial for the leaders to believe in showing regional leadership to preserve rights and resources and provide more benefits to the country, rather than in showing its assertiveness. He opined there will be a cascading fish stock collapse in the South China Sea in far less than 10 years unless something is done now. He called for multilateral efforts, whether or not from all of ASEAN. Mr. Poling cited a Philippine Air Force official’s view on “the need for all ASEAN to get together because otherwise, there’s no way any single claimant is going to be heard, given the disparity in power of China.”

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