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  • Haeun Kwon

Report on the Seventh Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference

The Seventh Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference was held on July 18, 2017. This conference provided opportunities for in-depth discussions regarding the South China Sea disputes, policy shifts in Beijing, Manila, and Washington. APPA UN Intern, Haeun Kwon attended this conference and the following is a report written by her.

<Report on the Seventh Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference>

August 4, 2017

I visited a seminar called “The Seventh Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference” on July 18, 2017 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The seminar began with an opening remark by senator Cory Gardner, who currently serves as the chair of Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs. His message heavily relied on the North Korean missile threat and the way the United States perceives the threat. He said, “Nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula is the urgent priority and time is not on our side.” His argument showed his impatience toward North Korea and urged the deterrence toward North Korea in order to protect its own country and its allies. He also condemned China’s continued trade with North Korea and its past actions that induced the fall down of the South Korean economy. His speech was clear on how the American leadership viewed the Asia Pacific, especially North Korea, and raised the stake of the seminar.

After his speech, many panelists began to talk about the South China Sea issue. The first session introduced the long history of South China Sea disputes and extended to the legal and environmental perspective of the issue in the second session. Chi-ting Tsai, the assistant professor of International law in National Taiwan University, and Tara Davenport, a non-resident fellow at National University of Singapore, showed their strong beliefs on the role of international law when questioned by someone on the floor. When we think about the effectiveness of the international law, I think, one critical question we all need to bear in our mind is the possible alternatives for the law of the sea. Without the international law, how can we regulate and control the disputes that are happening in the high sea?

During lunchtime Ely Ratner who is the senior fellow in Chinese studies in council on foreign relations said “South China is top-tier issue for security and prosperity […] US’s goal is a full stop of China’s control on South China Sea.” In the seminar, there was disagreement among guests on the intention of South China Sea. Some people argued that China’s actions have clear intention to expand its power through South China Sea while the other believed that China’s intention has ambiguity so it is too early to launch deterrence action toward China.

Lastly, the aim for capacity building was discussed during the seminar. Lindsey Ford, director for Security Programs in Asia Society Policy Institute said that capacity building, which facilitate network between allies, is a difficult and common platform, but necessary. In addition, i was impressed by Colin Willette, former Deputy Assistant Secretary, who said, “Issues should be dealt with claimant itself rather than the United States”. Claimant included Philippines and China. Although I believe that there is controversy on the definition of claimants, I was surprised by Colin’s view because it constraint the United States’ intervention on South China Sea.

Overall, the seminar broadened my knowledge and perspective on South China Sea issue. I was able to learn the value of the South China Sea economically, militarily and politically. I also realized how different interests of various countries are connected on the topic and how complicated it is. However, I thought that capacity building can be achieved through continued discourse between countries; the seminar I attended today can be one of the examples. Experts from different countries and different field gathered and discussed about the issue. Although there was no absolute solution for the South China Sea issue, at least it started peaceful negotiations for the South China Sea. I was honored to be part of the process and observe interesting debate among experts on the issue.

APPA UN NGO Intern Haeun Kwon

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