Scholars condemn increasing violence at sea as ASEAN discusses marine law

By Vu Anh   March 18, 2021 | 12:00 am PT
Scholars condemn increasing violence at sea as ASEAN discusses marine law
Chinese ships are seen during a search and rescue exercise near Qilian Yu subgroup in the Paracel Islands, South China Sea, July 14, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Stringer.
Forces using violence in the region's disputed waters have caused an escalation of tensions, heard scholars attending an ASEAN Regional Forum workshop (ARF).

The online workshop themed "Enhancing Regional Maritime Law Enforcement Cooperation" was jointly organized by the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and European Commission on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The forum was attended by officials, researchers, and experts on security and maritime law enforcement from ARF members, also the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and regional and international organizations.

Many scholars are of the idea that international laws, in particular the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), contains provisions allowing the use of force while on duty, but emphasizes it must be conducted along with certain limitations and only applied in cases that are truly necessary and when all other methods have been exhausted.

They insisted that the use of force should comply with general principles and procedures, especially avoiding causing harm to human life and must only occur in waters under the jurisdiction of affected countries.

They warned of the escalation of tensions in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, if such uses of force take place.

To create a foundation for cooperation, participants of the event said it is necessary to actively implement measures to build trust and mutual understanding among law enforcement agencies at sea.

In January, China passed the Coast Guard Law, which allowed its coast guard to use "all necessary means" to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels, demolish other countries' structures built on Chinese-claimed reefs and to board and inspect foreign vessels in waters claimed by China.

It also empowers the coast guard to create temporary exclusion zones "as needed" to stop other vessels and personnel from entering.

China's passage of the law comes even as it remains locked in sovereignty disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and with a number of Southeast Asian countries in the East Sea. Beijing has repeatedly used coast guard vessels to chase away and harry other countries' fishing vessels, on several occasions even ramming and sinking them.

Many countries, including the U.S., have expressed concerns, saying the law could escalate maritime disputes.

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