Chapter Three: Upholding the rules-based regional order

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Second Plenary Session
The 16th Asia Security Summit, Singapore, 2–4 June 2017.

Second plenary session

Saturday 3 June 2017, 09:30

SPEAKERS

Tomomi Inada

Minister of Defense, Japan

Marise Payne

Minister of Defence, Australia

Sylvie Goulard

Minister for Armed Forces, France

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Tomomi Inada, Japan’s minister of defence, opened the second plenary session, noting that the rules-based order had delivered a safe, stable, and inclusive world. She said it was ‘unwise and counterproductive’ for countries which, in economic terms, had benefited most from this system to undermine it. Rules had to adapt in order to remain relevant, the minister argued, but this had to be done in an orderly manner and without recourse to unilateral action. On that theme, she praised the essential role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in sustaining the rules-based international order.

During the current premiership of Shinzo Abe, Japan has become an active proponent of the rules-based order, Inada said, and legislative changes adopted in 2016 were intended not only to boost domestic security but to contribute to peace and stability internationally. She added that Japan would continue to act to uphold the international order.

The minister described the United States (US) as a long-term Pacific power and characterised the US–Japan alliance as a public good that contributes to regional peace and security. She noted her extensive collaboration with James Mattis, her US counterpart. This cooperation of late has focused particularly on North Korea, which flouts international law and United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions. Inada said that Japan fully supports the US position that ‘all options are on the table’. She called for increased pressure on North Korea to fulfil its obligations.

Without explicitly naming China, Inada made reference to incursions by the Chinese navy into Japan’s territorial waters. She also noted the unilateral efforts of some countries to change the status quo in the South China Sea. The rules-based order is under threat, the minister concluded, and the solution is contained in three Cs – confidence-building, capacity-building and combined effort.

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Marise Payne, Australia’s defence minister, said that it was important for the region to be more open to the rest of the world as the global economy’s centre of gravity shifts to the Indo-Pacific, which is forecast to account for one-third of global GDP by 2030. By then, ASEAN will have become the world’s fourth-largest market after the China, the European Union (EU) and the US. The absence of major conflict within ASEAN over the last quarter of a century is the result of concerted efforts to craft and uphold a rules-based order, the minister said. Upholding that order remains vital.

Payne warned delegates that it was erroneous to believe that economic interdependence in the region would guarantee security. Rather, it was necessary to invest in security cooperation at a level commensurate with the investment in economic cooperation. She said China was the greatest beneficiary of regional order, as half a billion Chinese had been raised out of poverty, in large part due to China’s integration with the global economy. That prosperity, she said, had benefited many other countries too. Maintaining shared prosperity required maintenance of the rules.

Referring to overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, Payne called on all countries to act in accordance with international law, including the decision of the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal. She promised that Australia would continue to uphold international law – and to exercise its rights under international law, including freedom of navigation and overflight. Australia will also contribute to put pressure on North Korea to adhere to the rules-based order, in its case regarding the norms of nuclear non-proliferation, the minister said. She welcomed China’s recent criticism of North Korea and its support for UN Security Council sanctions, and expressed the hope that China would use its unique economic and financial leverage on Pyongyang to manage this instability. Australia seeks to work with China to address this strategic challenge, she added.

Australia is further concerned at the risks to regional stability posed by fighters returning home from conflicts in the Middle East. The defeat of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in Iraq and Syria, to which Australia is contributing, could be followed by the relocation of jihadis to Southeast Asia – a concern that the minister said she had raised at every defence ministerial meeting since 2015. Returning fighters could be agents of radicalisation, the minister noted. Recent ISIS-inspired attacks in Indonesia and more recently in Marawi were a reminder of the persistent threat, Payne said. In response, Australia is building regional counter-terrorism capabilities and hopes to see the strengthening of regional cooperation mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meetings-Plus (ADMM-Plus).

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Sylvie Goulard, France’s newly appointed Minister for Armed Forces, said that French President Emmanuel Macron was committed to openness, respecting existing international commitments and remaining resolute in upholding international peace and security, including through the use of military instruments where necessary. In the Asia-Pacific, France has 1.6million nationals, vast territories and an Exclusive Economic Zone of more than 9m square kilometres; thus it is resolved to be a powerful contributor to the region’s peace and stability, which derive importantly from compliance with international law and the resolutions of the UN Security Council.

All states must fight to uphold the rules-based order, the minister said, and Europe knows well the risks of challenges to it. As examples, she noted challenges to state borders, cyber-propaganda, and also the rise of ISIS in the Middle East and most recently in Marawi in the southern Philippines. France shared the concern about the impact of returning fighters on regional stability. Goulard highlighted three major concerns for the Asia-Pacific region: North Korea, the South China Sea and the threats emanating from climate change. North Korea, she noted, is the only state to have conducted nuclear tests in the twenty-first century and it is developing offensive cyber capabilities. It is also suspected of having offensive chemical and biological weapon programmes. The minister called on all states scrupulously to uphold UN sanctions and stated France’s determination to contribute, if necessary, to new sanctions through the UN and the EU.

Because one-third of global trade passes through the area, any crisis in the South China Sea would be of keen interest to the EU. France’s commitment to upholding compliance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is steadfast, the minister said, and it is committed to maintaining a regular naval presence in the region. It is important that the rules-based order can evolve rather than stagnate, she said, but only within the framework of peaceful, friendly discussions. France rejects unilateral initiatives and ‘survival of the fittest’.

Climate change and the unsustainable exploitation of the ecosystem are damaging societies, the minister said, and could trigger migration. Goulard said she regretted the US president’s decision to step outside the COP21 Paris agreement but was delighted that other countries had committed to the endeavour, including local authorities and other entities in the US.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

In the discussion that followed the three ministers’ addresses, Professor Paul Evans of the University of British Columbia asked how far the region could trust the US to sustain the rules-based order in light of the Trump administration’s decisions to withdraw from Trans-Pacific Partnership and the COP21 Paris agreement. Payne responded that the US–Australia bilateral relationship had a deep structural quality and that the person-to-person contacts remained very solid. Discussion of the rules-based order is a foundational issue that binds states together. Dr Sylvia Yazid of Indonesia’s Parahyangan Catholic University asked about the contribution of civil society to upholding the rules-based order. Goulard responded that it was important to involve NGOs, companies and all stakeholders as envisaged by the COP 21 Paris agreement. These actors’ interests can differ from those of their governments, she noted, and they had the capability to help implement such agreements. Senior Captain Zhang Ye of the Chinese PLA’s World Naval Research Office invited Minister Inada to assess the framework Code of Conduct (CoC) approved in May 2017 by China and the states of ASEAN. Inada answered that Japan welcomes the CoC but that not all parts of it were yet clear. It was important, she added, that further dialogue would be conducted on the basis of international law, non-militarisation and the interested state parties’ self-control.

Professor Paul Evans, University of British Columbia Dr Sylvia Yazid, Parahyangan Catholic University, Indonesia Senior Captain Zhang Ye, World Naval Research Office, People’s Liberation Army, China
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