Asian Society of International Law Biennial Conference
Public International Law and the South China Sea Dispute: A Third-Party View
Introductory Remarks by Ambassador Steven J. Robinson AO
23 August 2019, Novotel Hotel, Quezon City
Thank you Professor Bagares.
Good afternoon and thank you for joining today’s lunchtime speech by Professor Natalie Klein, one of Australia’s leading experts on the law of the sea and international dispute resolution – two topics of profound importance to this region.
Before we hear from Professor Klein, I wanted to make a few brief remarks.
First, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the organisers on the success of the seventh Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law. I would also like to extend my congratulations to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine Society of International Law and the University of the Philippines College of Law and Law Centre, each of which has made a significant contribution.
I would also like to acknowledge the presence of H.E. Raul Pangalangan, Judge of the International Criminal Court; H.E. Hisashi Owada, Judge (ret.) of the International Court of Justice; Dr Aniruddha Rajput, Member of the UN International Law Commission; H.E. Jin-Hyun Paik, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea; Hon. Francis Jardeleza, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines; H.E. Chang-ho Chung, Judge of the International Criminal Court; Hon. Harry Roque Jr, President of the Asian Society of International Law; members of the diplomatic corps and distinguished guests.
It is an honour for the Australian Embassy to be making a small contribution to the success of this important event, which brings together some of the leading scholars and practitioners from our region and beyond.
The discussions taking place today – and which have taken place over the last two days – are ones that matter, because the ideas shared and the views expressed will go on to shape the direction of international law in our region.
This region has played a critical role in the development and maintenance of international law in the past. During the negotiations that led to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Indonesia and the Philippines played a leading role in the design of the archipelagic regime. More recently, through the South China Sea Arbitration, the Philippines made a significant contribution to dispute settlement and to Article 121 of UNCLOS.
This region will also play an important role in future. It is clear that our region and the broader international community are changing. It is clear too that institutions, rules and forms of cooperation can and do evolve. The task for us all is to contribute constructively to shaping these changes.
There are many reasons that international rules may change. Threats come from countries directly challenging, ignoring or undermining international law. Another risk is that countries do not defend rules when they are challenged. New rules and norms could emerge that are not consistent with our interests and values.
The Australian Government places a high priority on protecting and strengthening the international rules that guide the conduct of relations between states.
We will, of course, defend international law when the rules are challenged, ignored or undermined.
Our support for this conference is also part of our response.
By encouraging dialogue we hope to contribute to new rules and norms as they emerge, so that they develop in ways that are consistent with our interests and values.
The topic of today’s discussion, ‘Public International Law and the South China Sea Dispute,’ is one that matters to the region and to the international community.
It is one that matters to Australia.
Our interests are clear: we support the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; we support the peaceful settlement of disputes; we do not support the emergence of regional practices and norms that infringe on our rights.
Having said all of that, I also need to note that Professor Klein is not speaking on behalf of the Australian Government. She is an independent and highly respected academic. Whatever she shares with you today will be a reflection of the breadth and depth of her knowledge. I’m sure that you will find it highly valuable.
Professor Bagares will formally introduce Professor Klein, so I will leave it to him to detail her credentials. What I can add is that Professor Klein is held in very high regard in Australia by her peers in the academic community and by legal advisers inside and outside of government. Her books on ‘Maritime Security and the Law of the Sea’ and ‘Dispute Settlement in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’ have become “go to” texts for those who need clear, concise and accurate answers to difficult questions.
I also look forward to hearing from the reactors, including Associate Justice Jardeleza and Professors Gou, and the chair, Professor Mariko. Each is an expert and I am confident they will make insightful contributions to the discussion.