Symposium aims to improve maritime security through partnerships

Symposium aims to improve maritime security through partnerships

Felix Kim

Senior naval officers, scientists and legal experts from across the Indo-Pacific convened in the Philippines in June 2019 to promote regional partnerships as a way of addressing threats to maritime security.

The Maritime Security Symposium 2019 (MSS19) on June 14, 2019, in Manila was a warm-up to the city’s hosting of the 2020 Western Pacific Naval Symposium, a biennial event featuring chiefs of navy from across the region.

After opening remarks by Philippine Navy Chief of Staff Commodore Loumer P. Bernabe, pictured, five keynote speakers covered topics including maritime security, naval power in ocean governance, maritime militias and “gray zone” issues in the South China Sea, and collaboration in managing protected marine areas.

Panel discussions covered transnational crimes, resource depletion and ocean acidification. To confront these issues, countries in the region must strengthen and modernize their maritime forces — coast guards, in particular — keynote speaker Dr. Collin Koh Swee Lean, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told FORUM. He described two other recommendations made at the symposium.

“The first, which goes without saying, is to promote practical maritime security cooperation amongst regional governments,” he said. “The second is to promote deeper knowledge of the region’s marine environment and ecosystem, which would facilitate better planning for new initiatives that seek to, amongst others, secure the marine environment against long-term threats posed by, for example, illegal fishing and marine plastic waste pollution.”

On the subject of maritime security at MSS19 were gray zone issues, Koh said, concerning activities “which go beyond just the use of coercion at sea but include a whole range of tools, including nonmilitary, economic ones, to create a fait accompli against the victims.”

Philippines Supreme Court Judge Antonio Carpio called the recent ramming of Philippine fishing boats by larger Chinese vessels a “gray zone offensive,” Reuters reported on June 15, 2019.

The environmental recommendations fell into the category of the “blue economy,” which the Philippine Navy described as the “sustainable, eco-centric management of the world’s oceans to prevent the over exploration and exploitation of marine resources.”

Navies have a “constabulary role” in ocean governance, Koh said, that includes fishery protection and providing “maritime domain awareness for the security of marine protection zones.”

Philippine Navy spokesman Capt. Jonathan Zata emphasized the necessity of cross-sectoral collaboration at the national and regional levels for regional ocean governance.

“The MSS19 laid the groundwork for the forthcoming Western Pacific Naval Symposium by showcasing the potential of regional ocean governance as a collaborative mechanism between stakeholders,” he said, “both government and nongovernment allies in maritime security, with regional navies serving as an important pillar in this practice.”

Dr. Deo Florence L. Onda of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, whose keynote focused on cross-sectoral collaboration, emphasized the vital role played by the Philippine Navy as a partner to the institute during its scientific expeditions.

“Regional ocean governance can be described as management of the regional seas to promote their peaceful use by various nation states and nonstate parties,” Koh concluded, “all under the ambit of a rules-based system. It’s important to discuss this because of the pertinent challenges we see in the region’s maritime domain, ranging from illegal fishing, marine plastic waste pollution, and the coercive use of maritime forces that could endanger this good order.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.