All states have the duty to defend the rules-based international system. This was the message of Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely and British Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field at a recent forum organized by Stratbase ADR Institute.
Both diplomats agreed that the rules-based international system has provided clear benefits to their countries, including an extended period of peace, security and prosperity. In order to protect our security and sustain prosperity, states need to defend the integrity of the system, they said.
Gorely and Field noted the presence of threats from countries and leaders who challenge, ignore and undermine international law, as well as the norms that govern how states interact with each other. The militarization of the South China Sea, for instance, remains to be one of the most important and contentious external threats not only for the Philippines, but for the region.
The Australian envoy warned about the significant risk of countries not defending the rules when they are challenged. She urged all states, including the Philippines, to place a high priority on protecting and strengthening the rules that govern state conduct.
Field, meanwhile, stressed that we will all be worse off in the long run if we stand back, perhaps in the hope of some possible short-term gain. The rules-based international system is a network of agreements and institutions that requires support, he said, because it has a huge positive impact on global security and prosperity.
As Gorely pointed out, the use of negotiations—including efforts to negotiate the Asean-China Code of Conduct—is a constructive step that all claimants should participate in to clarify their claims in accordance with international law. She warned countries against pursuing their claims through unilateral action that only destabilizes the region and increases militarization.
She also stressed that the Code of Conduct should not prejudice the interests of third parties or the rights of the states under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Based on the Single Draft South China Sea Code of Conduct Negotiating Text, third parties are not signatories to the COC. According to reports, China’s inputs urge Asean member-states to be bound to the COC, while limiting, if not completely excluding, the involvement of third parties.
For his part, former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario agreed that international law has given equal voice to nations regardless of political, economic or military stature, banishing the unlawful use of sheer force. The Philippines can learn from the best practices of Australia and the United Kingdom in adopting the rules-based system, he said. Both Australia and the United Kingdom are parties to Unclos, and they have found the rules incredibly helpful when it came to resolving the maritime boundaries they share with neighboring countries. Earlier this year, Australia and Timor-Leste agreed on a maritime boundary following the first-ever conciliation proceedings under Unclos.
At all times, countries must work to ensure the integrity of the rules-based international system, and oppose any action that raise tensions such as militarization. This is critical to ensuring regional peace and stability. All disputes in the region should be resolved not through force or coercion, but in accordance with international law.
The Philippines has the moral and legal obligation to uphold the 2016 Ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. But we cannot do this if the administration will continue to adopt a policy of appeasement toward China. We need to regain the respect of responsible nations by clearly standing up for the rule of law.
The Philippines should start rallying for the promotion of a rules-based international system by looking beyond Asean and engaging other external powers like Australia and the United Kingdom. Multilateralism could be a critical step in achieving meaningful political security and economic community.
In the face of these challenges and threats to the rules-based international system, we can either work collectively with other states to defend the rule of law and uphold our sovereign rights, or allow the rule of might to prevail.
Dindo Manhit is founder and managing director of Stratbase Group.