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12th Lecture - International Law with Prof. Tommy Koh

Date: Monday, 8 August 2022

Time: 09.00 - 10.30 GMT+7

Platform: Zoom Meetings & Youtube Livestream

Speaker: Prof. Tommy Koh, Chairman of the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore and President of the 3rd UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (1981-1982)

Moderator: Damian D. Velasquez III, Lecturer at the College of Education, Arts, and Sciences of National University, Manila

Introduction to UNCLOS

UNCLOS is a post-colonial treaty. It is therefore not a product of the West because it was made by 150+ countries, the majority of which were developing countries. It is also not just a codification treaty because it contains many new concepts of international law. Out of all 10 ASEAN countries, 9 are parties to UNCLOS. The only ASEAN country that is not a party is Cambodia. One explanation is that Cambodia has unresolved maritime delimitation problems with its two neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. Cambodia may view that by joining UNCLOS it may be constraining its actions.

Benefits of UNCLOS for ASEAN States

Out of all 10 ASEAN countries, we have one ASEAN country that is a landlocked country. For landlocked countries, the most important right is a right of access to and from the sea. We’ll find Articles 124 to 132 and Part X of the Convention on this right. However, it’s one thing to have a right and another thing to be able to enforce it. A Laotian friend of mine at the UN once said to me that in practice, it is difficult for landlocked countries to enforce the right. Whether the rights are enforceable or not depends on whether you have good relations with your neighbors which are coastal countries.

Conflicting Claims in the South China Sea

ASEAN and China are currently negotiating the text of the Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea. This followed a conclusion in 2002 on the Declaration on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Although some progress has been made, there are still some sticking points. In 2018, the Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, during his visit to Singapore said that he hoped we can conclude the negotiations on the CoC in 2021. While 2021 has passed, we have still not completed our work. It’s impossible to say when negotiations will be concluded. ASEAN would like the CoC to be legally binding and for the code to contain provisions on dispute settlement. ASEAN would like the South China Sea to remain as a global common, which cannot be appropriated by any country. ASEAN would like the South China Sea to be open to the world.


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