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ASEAN Navy Chiefs call for stronger co-operation

Philippine marines on exercise with their Amphibious Assault Vehicles during a landing at a beach facing the South China Sea north of Manila on September 21, 2019. Tensions are rising between the Philippines and China. Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

HANOI, Nov 6, 2020, VNS. International co-operation at sea, manifested by the co-ordination of actions of countries at bilateral, regional and global levels, is indispensable to protect this essential living source and helps harmonise maritime activities and address trans-boundary challenges, according to a senior official, Vietnam News reported.

Speaking at the 14th ASEAN Navy Chiefs’ Meeting (ANCM) held online on Thursday, Rear Admiral Trần Thanh Nghiêm, Commander-in-Chief of Việt Nam People’s Navy, said the South China Sea (known as East Sea in Việt Nam) accommodates a great deal of the most critical and bustling sea lines of communication in the world.

“Any development or movement in this area attracts the attention of not only surrounding countries but also the whole international community as they find their vested interests in the area,” he said.

The region faces complex and unpredictable traditional and non-traditional security challenges such as piracy, terrorism, transnational crimes, sovereignty disputes and maritime environmental pollution.

Nghiêm proposed ASEAN navies strengthen mutual understanding and trust by enhancing interoperability via bilateral and multilateral co-operation activities and mechanisms to maintain security in the region.

He said it was a must to improve the effectiveness of information sharing platforms such as the Information Infusion Centre (IFC) and hotlines among navies, multilateral activities such as multilateral naval exercises, seminars and exhibitions under the framework of ANCM and ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM).

Nghiêm underlined the need to uphold international law, rules and norms which are universally recognised, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

He also called for reinforcing ASEAN’s centrality in regional maritime security co-operation mechanisms given that ASEAN is under increased pressure of policies and more contesting strategic rivalry among major powers.

In the immediate future, it was essential to secure a fully-fledged and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and timely conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) consistent with international law.

Talking about the theme for this year’s meeting – navy co-operation for a cohesive and responsive ASEAN – Admiral Tin Aung San, commander in chief of the Myanmar Navy, said it reflected the spirit of ‘Thinking as a Community, Acting for Community’ in response to the challenges and opportunities ahead.

For ‘Cohesive and Responsive’ ASEAN naval teamwork, he initiated a number of solutions including promoting links between national, regional and international mechanisms on maritime co-operation.

Aung San called for strengthening capacity and building mutual trust through the guidelines of ADMM and ADMM Plus.

Maritime domain awareness in ASEAN and beyond should be enhanced, he said.

Malaysian Chief of Navy, Admiral Tan Sri Mohd Reza bin Mohd Sany, agreed, saying: “Our waters and seas are transnational.”

Combatting trans-border crime would require a coherent framework and strong commitment from all stakeholders, he said, adding that maritime policies should emphasise environmental sustainability, without deterring economic development that was necessary for growth.

Regarding threats at sea, Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing (IUUF), piracy, human trafficking and terrorist activities still threatened the seas.

He suggested ASEAN countries strengthen naval co-operation through information sharing, exchange of best practices, and collectively address not just the symptoms but the root cause of these threats.

“Although each navy can face head-on these threats, the re-ocurrance will be inevitable unless we unite our efforts, continuously share our expertise, and as one ASEAN (face) these threats,” Bacordo said.

Initiated in 2001, the meeting is a chance for all parties to increase their understanding and improve collaboration on the implementation of a range of activities, including conducting joint sea rescues and addressing piracy and legal violations at sea.

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