“The Code of Conduct on the South China Sea: Military and Marine Resources in 2019”
20 JUNE 2019
Summarised by Kim Frank-Koczwara, Research Fellow at Human Development Forum Foundation
A set of informative presentations were displayed today with Dr. Ma. Carmen Alban-Lagman from Centre for Natural Science and Research (CENSER), De La Salle University, Philippines standing out with a clear presentation concerning the Marine Biological resources: Environmental degradation in the South China Sea and its consequences for the region. There were positions from opposite sides of the spectrum on the importance the South China Sea (SCS) has in the region, one being that the SCS holds a vast amount of petroleum and natural gas, and the other that it is one of the most biologically diverse regions on the planet. With much of the worlds focus on the SCS being namely of political and maritime interest, environmental degradation is rarely, if at all, mentioned in discussions regarding the management and use of the SCA today, hence the need for such a presentation today.
Dr. Ma. Carmen Alban-Lagman highlighted the importance of the South China Sea’s marine environment and the affects current methods of management are having. As mentioned, Asia heavily relies on fish as their protein intake where high rates of fish consumption in the region, specifically Malaysia as number one global consumer, have environmental repercussions. In a proposal to address this, new laws have been implemented however they favour large scale fisheries (often commercial) over small scale fisheries (often independent). Moreover, with China and the Philippines controlling the seas Dr. Alban-Lagman calls for protection of fisheries and regions, not just individual countries, in a bid for management of the SCS; an interesting point of focus as ocean borders are often ambiguous and those with more power favoured, whether it be larger fisheries or larger countries.
Dr. Alban-Lagman states that Environmental Scientists in the seventies declared that the SCS had reached capacity and was under threat yet fisheries did not stop and to this day are causing major habitat destruction in the region. Moreover, the consequences for exploitation are many, one being that the preferred food sources become more scares, as does the quality of the fish themselves where the initially high quality fish such as tuna become lower in the food chain affecting not only the taste and quality for human consumption but the whole ecosystem. She highlights that often countries disagree on what kind of fish can go where resulting in many issues on ocean border fishing. Unclear rules on who can go where are often disputed and should be agreed upon and handled before it’s too late, that is, out at sea.
Additionally, as indicated by Dr. Alban-Lagman various challenges are involved with the monitoring and evaluating of the SCS such as illegal trade on endangered species like the giant clam make particular fishing practices difficult to curb, along with climate change causing fish to travel in unforeseen ways – complicating territorial ownership. Moreover, she claims that rights and responsibilities for oil and gas exploration are limited if any, preferring to place restrictions on fisheries. With that, Dr. Alban-Lagman to state that regional fisheries management is need now, with the example of Indonesia recently joining the discussion resulting in no arguments occurring at sea as there are prior agreements in place. She hopes that from China signing the declaration of South China Sea entailing agreements to follow rules with fisheries included, that China will improve.
Moreover, the push for management structure it seems can only occur when rules are agreed on together and a common position amongst ASEAN is needed to move forward. Although Dr. Li Nan elaborated on sovereignty rights, and of jurisdiction rights, stating that analysts differentiate between the two, within the discussion it was argued that these are one and the same. The current literature on Chinese naval development, China’s inability to follow arms, and its priority for economic development above all else came under scrutiny. Furthermore, an emphasis on the need for military and marine to come together as one and not separate in necessary for the region to resolve the issue on the South China Sea and no longer take a single approach. Dr. Alban-Lagman reiterates that when climate change happens, all that we know about harvesting will change and that economists and biologists are needed in the debate.
Slides presented during Dr. Alban-Lagman’s dialogue showed the use of concrete in the reef as a strategy to accelerate coral restoration as she exclaimed corals can recover. She gives examples of ways to alleviate environmental degradation in the SCS that are already being seen in Taiwan and China through their advanced Aqua agriculture which is showing to have less of an impact on marine life. However, as mentioned these strategies have been put in place after these countries have already seen the devastating effects of their actions and not as a means of prevention, similar to Thailand today with their need for aquaculture due to decreasing marine life. HoweBy pointing out faults in the current management of the region, Dr. Alban-Lagman mentions that people who are not in the region, such as The US, somehow are always getting involved; officials think different things, and something other than maritime use as a means of protection for the region. She emphasised the necessity for conflict resolution and security to be at ease in the region so to come together for environmental concentration and a focus on what may potentially have irreversible affects because as Dr. Alban-Lagman questions, if there is no earth, what are we fighting over?