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Opening remarks at the 12th South China Sea International Conference

Dr. Phạm Lan Dung, Acting President, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam

 16 November 2020

Excellency Bui Thanh Son, First Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs

Mr. Nguyễn Văn Quyền, Chairman of the Vietnam Lawyers’ Association

Excellency Ambassadors, Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to warmly welcome you to the 12th International Conference on the East Sea (South China Sea) themed “Maintaining Peace and Cooperation through Time of Turbulence” by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam in collaboration with the Foundation for East Sea Studies (FESS) and the Vietnam Lawyers’ Association (VLA). I especially welcome guests from around the World who are attending this year’s Conference online, the first time this Conference to do so. I regret that the Covid-19 pandemic does not allow us to have a direct meeting as usual.

   Ladies and Gentlemen,

   Since the beginning of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically and rapidly changed the way the world works. We have been learning how to get acquainted and proactively adapt to the “new normal”. The world economy continues to decline and shows no signs of recovery. In such difficult time, self-serving nationalism has more land to grow. Public opinion in many countries appears xenophobic, clumpy and somewhat distrustful of governmental and inter-governmental organizations.

 Geopolitical competition is rising on the global scale and increasingly complicated. There is a tendency for militarisation, confrontation and threat or use of asymmetric power to resolve disputes that drive up tensions. The effectiveness of the international legal system is threatened by unilateral and arbitral interpretation and application of international law in one countries’ favor. Protecting the marine environment, combating climate change, sustainable use of natural resources, and protecting the legal order at sea and maritime security in general for countries and coastal communities are common issues, requiring joint efforts from the international community.

   However, in that turbulent and volatile situation, the South China Sea in 2020 saw positive developments in the right direction:

   First, several countries in the South China Sea have expressed and clarified the legal stance through a series of note verbales exchanged at the United Nations. The circulation of these notes, which carry bold language in support of international law, shows that countries increasingly appreciate the role and value of international law, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), thereby, affirming that [quote] “the universality and consistency of UNCLOS have established the legal framework in which all activities at sea and ocean are carried out” [end quote]. The note verbales exchange are essential concrete steps in constructing the much desired and talked about “rules based international order”.

   Second, ASEAN continues to play its central role and shows regional cohesion in this arduous and challenging time, consistent with the ASEAN 2020  theme of “Cohesive and Responsive”. Although strongly affected by the Covid-19, ASEAN continues to maintain dialogue and cooperation activities within and outside the region throughout the year, including exchanges on the South China Sea issue, thus contributing to maintaining trust, reducing tension and preventing conflict. In the past three days alone, more than 20 high-level meetings have taken place and 80 documents have been adopted, including several statements on the various aspects of the South China Sea issue.

  Third, the South China Sea continues to attract the attention of the international community. Many countries outside the region have expressed their interest and desire to contribute positively to the peace and rule of law in the South China Sea, affirming the importance of the South China Sea in maintaining global smooth and uninterrupted trade, freedom of navigation and overflight. Many countries reaffirm the importance of the full implementation and proper interpretation of the provisions of UNCLOS to protect the integrity of the Convention.

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

   We believe that, in the time of confusion and turbulences, the need for peace, dialogue and cooperation of the international community to overcome difficulties grows greater. For that reason, this year’s conference was titled “Maintaining peace and cooperation through time of turbulence”.

For over a decade, the South China Sea Conference has been acknowledged as a prestigious and much expected academic event among scholars on the subject of the South China Sea. The conference brought together leading experts from the region and the world to discuss issues of maritime security, the law of the sea, economic development and protection of the marine environment. After more than 10 years of organization, the conference attracted more than 500 participants and 2,000 delegates, contributed to raising regional and international understanding and awareness on various aspects of the South China Sea issue like history, politics, economics,  jurisdiction, culture, environment, and so on, making a practical contribution to maintaining peace, stability and promoting cooperation in the South China Sea as well as regional cooperation in general.

   Given such achievements and traditions of the Conference series, we always wonder how the conference needs to innovate itself in order to better contribute to resolving new difficulties and challenges in the current volatile context? We are pleased that the Conference this year will have some new features as follows.

  Firstly, the Conference is being organized for the first time in hybrid format to suit the context of limited international travel. This format has enabled us to invite a record number of speakers and discussants to join our Conference this year.

   Secondly, we have been trying to keep the discussions more practical, touch on more practical issues with greater interactions between scholars, experts and policy practitioners. The Conference this year would continue to serve as a better bridge between the formal track and the semi-formal track so as to help make substantial changes, in the interest of peace and cooperation in the South China Sea.

   Thirdly, we continue to reach out and bring in new stake holders in the South China Sea, whose views matters. For the first time we have invited a number of international journalists to join the conference as insiders, not as a reporter. That is because we realize that the role and voice of member of the media would have a great influence on the South China Sea situation. We are also dedicating for the first time a special session for Young Leaders. The participation of Young Leaders is necessary to create a new generation of young people who are knowledgeable about regional issues, sensitive to the interests of all parties, and at the same time, to inject new ideas to maintain peace, stability and cooperation, not only in the present generation, but in many generations to follow.

   In closing, I would like to once again thank Excellency Bui Thanh Son, thank Excellency Ambassadors, Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps, international organizations, and delegates who registered to attend the Conference. I’d like to sincerely thank the 350 guests who signed up to join us online as well as journalists at home and abroad who are present to report on the conference.

   Last but not leastwe would like to express my heart felt gratitude the support extended to us from many domestic and international partners and friends in organising this Conference. We especially would like to thank the KAS Foundation, the Asia-New Zealand Foundation, Petro Vietnam, the Embassies of Australia, the UK, Canada, Germany, France and the EU Delegation for their strong and effective support. Your companion and support are a great encouragement to the Organizing Committee and an important contribution to the success of the Conference.

   Ladies and Gentlemen,

 Once again, I would like to warmly welcome all of you delegates and distinguished guests and wish the Conference many interesting and profound discussions in the next two days.

   I’d like to wish all the delegates good health, the conference a great success.

   Thank you very much!