UNCLOS – Enhancing Maritime Security

16 August 2021
Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh delivering his remarks at the UNSC High-level Open Debate on “Enhancing Maritime Security – A Case for International Cooperation” held virtually on August 9, 2021

‘Prompted by the desire to settle, in a spirit of mutual understanding and
cooperation, all issues relating to the law of the sea and aware of the historic
significance of this Convention as an important contribution to the
maintenance of peace, justice and progress for all peoples of the world’

This is the first paragraph of the preamble of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). (https://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos_e.pdf)

168 countries are party to this noble UN convention that comprehensively sets out a legal order for the seas and oceans, the ocean floor, the subsoil thereof and the air space above.

At the first-ever UN Security Council Open Debate on Enhancing Maritime Security which was held virtually on August 9, 2021 Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said, “Even when the world is devoting much resource to the fight against COVID-19, the topic of our discussion is of strategic and substantial importance. Vietnam especially commends and echoes India's Five S Approach at the Security Council. Vietnam is committed to working with India and other Council members in promoting dialogue, cooperation and mutual respect, for global peace and prosperity.”

For a littoral country like Vietnam which has a coastline that stretches for 3,620km from Mong Cai in the North to Ha Tien in the Southwest, the ocean is a vital resource which includes Vietnam's territorial waters in the Eastern Sea/the South China Sea extending to the East and Southeast, including the continental shelf, islands and archipelagoes.

Prime Minister Chinh acknowledged the 1982 UNCLOS as the Constitution of Oceans and Seas, the universal and unified legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out, and the basis for international cooperation to address common challenges in the world.

“Recognizing the importance of oceans and seas, nations have created important cooperation mechanisms, both bilateral and multilateral, at regional and global levels. Nevertheless, at sea, we are faced with both traditional and non-traditional security challenges. Terrorism and criminal acts, especially organized crime, have been expanding in scope and complexity. Climate change, sea level rise and pollution of the marine environment, especially by plastic debris and degradation of the marine ecosystem, have caused serious and long-term consequences. Unilateral acts that violate international law, even threats or uses of force, have escalated tensions and affected peace, friendship, security, safety and freedom of navigation and trade, as well as efforts to address non-traditional security challenges” stated Prime Minister Chinh.
In his proposal to the UNSC debate the PM presented that it is imperative that states and international organisations develop a comprehensive, extensive and broad awareness of the importance of oceans and seas, and the threats to maritime security. Secondly, maritime security is a global issue and therefore requires global solutions to be provided by a network of arrangements and initiatives for regional maritime security with the United Nations working as the coordinator, to bolster information and experience sharing, coordinate actions, and address common challenges in a timely manner and thirdly the policies, regulations and conducts of states at sea must be in line with international law, especially the United Nations Charter and the 1982 UNCLOS.
PM Pham Minh Chinh and the Vietnamese delegation at the UNSC High-level Open Debate on “Enhancing Maritime Security – A Case for International Cooperation” from Hanoi at the invitation of PM Narendra Modi of India as rotating Presidency of the UNSC on August 9, 2021

Vietnam’s PM re-affirmed the country consistently pursues a foreign policy of peace, independence, self-reliance, multilateralization and diversification of international relations, as a trusted friend and partner, and a reliable member of the international community. Vietnam stands ready to cooperate, exchange information and share experience with other countries in efforts to address maritime security issues and to contribute positively to the maintenance of a peaceful and secured maritime environment, and sustainable development in the region and the world.

Prime Minister Chinh’s attendance was at the invitation of PM Narendra Modi of India that began its rotating Presidency of the UNSC in August. PM Modi presented five principles that will guide India’s presidency in regards to “Enhancing Maritime Security – A Case for International Cooperation”. The first principle is to remove barriers from legitimate maritime trade since the prosperity of all of us depends on the active flow of maritime trade. The hurdles could be a challenge for the entire global economy. Free maritime trade also requires that the rights of each other's sailors should be fully respected. Secondly, the settlement of maritime disputes must be peaceful and on the basis of international law only. This is very important for mutual trust and confidence. It is only through this that we can ensure global peace and stability. Thirdly, we must face natural disasters and maritime threats created by non-state actors together. Fourthly, the responsibility to preserve the maritime environment and maritime resources fall upon all of us. As we know, the oceans have a direct impact on the climate. And therefore, we have to keep our maritime environment free from pollution like plastics and oil spills. And take joint steps against over-fishing and marine poaching. At the same time, we must also increase cooperation in ocean science. Lastly, responsible maritime connectivity should be encouraged. It is clear that infrastructure creation is necessary to increase maritime trade. But, the physical sustainability and absorption capacity of the countries have to be kept in mind in the development of such infrastructure projects. For this we must make proper global norms and standards.

Both PMs Pham Minh Chinh and Narendra Modi are confident that a global roadmap of maritime security cooperation can be formed with the United Nations serving as the coordinator, to bolster information and experience sharing, coordinate actions, and address shared challenges in a timely manner.