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International Conference on the South China Sea

 

14-15 November 2016

Nha Trang City, Viet Nam

Facing the South China Sea, the InterContinental Hotel in the city of Nha Trang, Vietnam was the venue of the above conference on the South China Sea. The conference, the 8th in the series held in Viet Nam, was jointly organised by the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam, Foundation for East Asia Studies, and the Viet Nam Lawyer’s Association. On the eve of the conference, a welcome dinner hosted by the President of the Vietnamese Lawyer’s Association was held for some 70 international participants. The highlight of the dinner was the Keynote Speech by H.E. Ambassador Dang DinhQuy, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam. The off-the-cuff speech was aided by a well stacked and engaging set of power point slides, structured to drive home the topic of the speech: Key points of Vietnam’s Foreign Policy and Strategy on East Sea Issues”.  

The following day, after a smooth registration administered by a small group of personnel, the conference got under way with close to 200 participants in attendance. The theme for the conference was “Cooperation for Regional Security and Development”. Day 1 of the conference addressed the following four topics: The Origins of the South China Sea Disputes; Whither the South China Sea Tensions?; International Law and the South China Sea; and The Political Economy of the South China Sea: Issues and Prospects. Three topics were discussed on Day 2 namely Security, Politics and Diplomacy; Interactions and Coordination at Sea; and Mechanisms for Managing the South China Sea Tensions.

A good mix of speakers from around the globe participated including a former judge of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). After deliberating on the seven (7) topics, the conference had two special sessions: Fostering Cooperation in the South China Sea (Special session for Representatives from SCS Young Leaders’ Group), and a special session for Free Discussion. The special sessions were considerably impactful in that the discussions witnessed a healthy exchange of ideas from the younger generation as well as thoughts from the audience on matters ranging from the conference theme to aspirations for the 9th conference and beyond.

An optional visit to Cam Ranh International Port was organised on 16 November 2016 for participants who stayed on after the conference ended. Located in Cam Ranh Bay, the strategically located deep-water harbour can accommodate tourist ships/cruise liners as well as military ships. Although already operational the port has yet to be fully developed and, on completion, is expected to have an array of services and become the biggest port in Viet Nam in terms of wharf length. Also, the port is expected to be able to handle 18 ships at one time and accommodate vessels of up to 110,000 DWT. While the commercial aspects of the port are significant, no less interesting to note are reports that the port has piers capable of receiving aircraft carriers and submarines, thus underscoring the true value of the dual-use nature of the facility. It will be interesting to observe whether this port will attract the interest and attention of parties – militarily speaking – from near and far.

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Group photo at Cam Ranh International Port

Overall, the two-day conference can be said to have achieved its aim as stated in the conference booklet to “… provide participants a special opportunity to assess the current situation in the South China Sea from an interdisciplinary perspective and to consider and discuss measures to maintain peace and stability in the area and to promote cooperation.” And the visit to Cam Ranh International Port was an eye-opener of sorts.

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