Remarks of JIIA Director General (Acting) Koichi Ai: “The Framework of Conduct, One Year After Arbitration”

Remarks of Mr. Koichi Ai
Director-General (Acting), Japan Institute for International Affairs

The Framework of Conduct, One Year After Arbitration

Thank you. I am very much honored and delighted to be invited to this important occasion. Professor Manhit and I met in Tokyo in March, when he made an excellent intellectual contribution to the Symposium my institute organized. I am very pleased that ADR and JIIA are playing important role in sharing of thoughts between the two countries. I like very much for that coalition to continue. The task of following on the presentations by some of the most distinguished legal minds and strategic thinkers with their information-packed and thought-provoking presentations is certainly daunting one.

Before I begin, let me offer my most profound respect, as an observer of international relations, to the leadership and wisdom demonstrated by the people of the Philippines in bringing this case to arbitration tribunal. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the case and its award in the development of the rule of law at sea. It was truly historic event.

In my attempt to provide a Japanese perspective to this discussion, let me begin by how the South China Sea Arbitration and more generally the issue of the rule of law in the South China Sea have been treated in the context of Japan’s foreign policy.

Between September last year and May this year, there were at least 8 bilateral summit meetings between Prime Minister Abe and other foreign leaders during which the issue of the rule of law and South China Sea was discussed. Add to that at least 9 bilateral ministerial meetings.

In the multilateral context, Japan as the chair of G7 Ise-Shima Summit in 2016 had lead the discussions on the rule of law at sea prior to the arbitration award in July that year. Post award, G7 Foreign Minister’s Statement on Recent Development in Asia (September 2016, New York) expressed “strong opposition to unilateral actions that raise tensions in the South China Sea” and referred to the arbitration award as “ a useful basis for further efforts to peacefully resolve disputes in the South China Sea.” This interest in maintaining a rules-based  maritime order and in peaceful dispute settlement continued in to Italian chairmanship this year and was duly expressed in both G7 Foreign Minister’s Joint Communique at Lucca and G7 Taormina Leader’s Communique. Both urged “all parties to pursue demilitarization of disputed features.”

On more practical front, Japan has redoubled its efforts to assist in the Southeast Asia’s capacity building. Prior to the arbitration award, Japan had transferred 10 patrol ships to the Philippines in addition to 6 to Vietnam and 3 to Indonesia. After the arbitration, Japan and the Philippines agreed on the transfer of 2 additional patrol ships and 5 TC-90 training aircrafts. Japan has transferred 2 patrol ships to Malaysia and will provide 6 patrol ships to Vietnam coast guard.

The Japan Institute for International Affairs has not been idle on this matter either. We have made this issue a subject of a number of seminars and round tables. Earlier this year, we invited a renowned international lawyer, who argued the case at the arbitration on behalf of the Philippines, to Japan to participate in a series of both public and closed sessions to discuss his experience in the case. This was very meaningful in not only informing the public about the issue but also in giving our professional and academic audience a rare opportunity to glimpse the realities of international litigation.

Why is this issue so important to Japan apart from the strong friendship that characterizes our bilateral relations?

Japan, much like the Philippines, is a maritime nation and has a existential interest in matters of maritime security. Japan has always emphasized the importance of peaceful resolution of maritime disputes, based firmly on international law.

Free and open maritime order remains the key to peace, stability and prosperity of the region including Japan. Given both the strategic and economic significance of South China Sea, any dispute arising from this body of water is of grave concern to the international community.

We also believe, in light of how the arbitration award has been received and treated, that it is important for us all the more to emphasize the consequence of not complying with a final and legally binding award.

This is perhaps the less discussed among the number of reasons why we should continue to press this issue. The rule of law is a human creation. This principle must be consistently upheld in practice in order that it remain effective. Failure to do so will result in the erosion of this principle. Allowing the award to be ignored directly contributes to the undoing of the rule based order. The test of being a responsible actor in the international community is whether you abide by the decision duly rendered even when it is not to your immediate interest. Plainly put, can you be a good loser? Japan lost a case before the International Court of Justice in the matter of whaling and immediately accepted the terms of the decision and altered its policy accordingly because preserving and defending the credibility of the system is in the interest of all.

If the present rule-based liberal international order, which has been the basis of peace, stability and prosperity for many countries this past 7 decades, is to be replaced, what would the new world order look like? Is it going to be a more vertical, hierarchical order where principle of might is right fill the void left after the rule of law?

So let us be clear, the present interaction in the East Asia is not simply a power struggle between an existing super power and an ascendant power. It is a manifestation of a challenge to the existing international system, its principles and the way of life it supports.

Territorial disputes invariably entail matters of principle and sovereignty. But what is at stake today is not simply the question of where should the line be drawn even though it…..The real question now is which of the two visions of the international relations do you choose? I think the choice is obvious.

This is not to say I do not welcome China’s rise. Quite the contrary. I think we should embrace it. Recently, China has come up with new ideas about infrastructure development. May be it is premature for us to pass judgement on that. We should perhaps carefully listen to what they have to offer, keeping in mind what Trojans said about Greeks bearing gifts.

The difficulty is that this new economic giant seems to be the proponent of the less desirable vision of international order. Do economic incentives and a new world order part and parcel of a single package? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

No need to burn the bridge ourselves and make the problem more difficult than it really is.

We continue to engage China as a matter of business in economic and commercial sphere. But we should resolve to challenge every move they make against the rule-based international order. We must make any attempt on their part costly enough for them to have second thought. This cannot be achieved by the initiative of one country. It has to be a collective effort of like minded countries both in and outside the region.

It will also be characterized by an extended period of tense and precarious relations in the region. It will be uncomfortable. Both the people and the political leadership must be able to endure that stress if we are to peacefully manage this changing dynamism.

That is where the think tanks like ADR and JIIA have critical roles to play. I envision at least two such roles.

One. Advise the government policy planners as to policy options for responding to China’s actions without unduly escalating the situation but still effective in discouraging further erosion of the rule based liberal order.

Two. Better informing the public as to the nature of conflicts in the region and what is at stake so that the governments might enjoy critical democratic support for their decisions.

Think tankers do not think in terms of simple black and white. We think in tones of grey. We explore new approach to old problems, expanding the practical reach of what is possible, so that policy decision makers can play the art of politics as defined by Bismarck, as the art of the possible.

JIIA is running two separate projects this year, one focusing on maritime security and rule of law, another focusing on the sovereignty and territorial matters. While they have different focuses, these programs do address issues that have direct relevance to the present situation in the South China Sea. We remain committed to pursuing this issue.

Therefore, I believe there are continuing opportunities for ADR and JIIA to work together on this important agenda. I look forward to working with Professor Manhit and his team.

Thank you.

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