Time to defend the rules-based international system

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute

All states have the duty to defend the rules-based international system.

This is the message of Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely and British Minister of State for Asia and Pacific Mark Field in the recent forum organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute (ADRi).

Both diplomats agree that the rules-based international system has considerably provided clear benefits to their countries, including an extended period of peace, security, and prosperity. They affirm that in order to protect our security and sustain prosperity, states need to defend the integrity of the system.

During the forum, Ambassador Gorely and Minister 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 remains to be one of the most important and contentious external threat not only in our country but in the region.

The Australian envoy warned about the equally significant risk when countries do not defend 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.

Minister Field 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.

According to him, the rules-based international system is a network of agreements and institutions that requires our support because it has huge positive impact on global security and prosperity.

Ambassador Gorely pointed out that the use of negotiations including efforts to negotiate the ASEAN-China Code of Conduct is a constructive step and urged all claimants to clarify their claims in accordance with international law. She also warned countries to refrain from pursuing their claims through unilateral action that destabilizes the region and increase militarization.

She also stressed that the Code of Conduct should not prejudice the interests of third parties or the rights of the states under the international law, including the UNCLOS.

Based on the Single Draft South China Sea Code of Conduct Negotiating Text (SDNT), third parties are not signatories to the COC. Reports said China’s inputs urges the binding of ASEAN numbers states in the COC while limiting, if not completely excluding, the involvement of third parties.

For his part, former Foreign Affairs 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 United Kingdom in adopting the rules-based system, he said. Both Australia and the UK are parties to UNCLOS, and they have found the rules incredibly helpful when it comes to resolving the maritime boundaries they share with others. Earlier this year, Australia and Timor-Leste agreed on a maritime boundary following the first ever conciliation under UNCLOS.

At all times, we have to work to ensure the integrity of the rules-based international system, and oppose any action that raise tensions in the region such as militarization. This is critical to ensure 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 for its part has the moral and legal obligation to uphold the 2016 Ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. 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 rule-based international system. It should look beyond the ASEAN and engage other external powers like Australia and United Kingdom. In fact, multilateralism could be a critical step in achieving a meaningful and peaceful 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 rule of law and uphold our sovereignty rights or allow the rule of might to prevail.

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