President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has proposed a code of conduct for the East China Sea, which contains islands claimed by Taiwan, China, Japan and South Korea.
What should such a code contain? Clearly there should be clauses addressing the arrest and detention of fishing crews and vessels of fellow claimants. It should also govern any and all other activities in disputed areas, for example resource exploration and exploitation, scientific research, marine and aerial “surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance probes and other military activities in disputed economic zones.
Right up front must be a clause stating that nothing in the declaration prejudices any party’s rights or jurisdiction in its claimed territory, territorial sea, continental shelf, exclusive economic zone or its rights and responsibilities under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
It should reaffirm the use of the sea for peaceful purposes only and the resolution of disputes without the threat or use of force in accordance with international law. It should also reaffirm the freedom of navigation and overflight consonant with international law.
The parties should commit to exercising self restraint in the conduct of activities that might complicate or escalate disputes, including refraining from occupying presently uninhabited features.
They should also agree to negotiate provisional arrangements of a practical nature to manage and share the resources in disputed areas. And they should agree to notify each other of pending activities including military exercises in waters of interest to other parties.
Outside parties should be encouraged to adhere to the declaration’s provisions. Looking forward, the parties should consider making the declaration a formal code of conduct.
While this may appear to be wishful thinking, a similar declaration forged in 2002 by ASEAN was agreed to by China for the South China Sea. This came about only after years of confrontation and actual conflict over maritime issues.
The geopolitical conditions in the two regions are significantly different, but there is a growing consensus that it is not too early to begin discussing security architecture in Northeast Asia.
That discussion should begin at sea.
Mark Valencia is an adjunct senior scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, China.