But what, exactly, does that mean? If we distill the spirit that we have infused into international law over the ages and reformulate it as three principles, the rule of law at sea becomes a matter of common sense.
First, states should make and clarify their claims based on international law. Second, states should not use force or coercion in trying to realize their claims. And, third, states should seek to settle disputes by peaceful means. All three of these very simple — almost self-evident — principles must be emphasized, because all governments in Asia and the Pacific must uphold them rigorously.
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Consider Indonesia and the Philippines, countries whose leaders have peacefully reached agreement on the delimitation of their overlapping exclusive economic zones. Likewise, my government strongly supports the Philippines' call for a resolution to the territorial dispute in the South China Sea that is truly consistent with the three principles of international maritime law, just as we support Vietnam's efforts to resolve conflicting territorial claims through dialogue.
Rather than attempting to consolidate changes to the status quo by piling one fait accompli upon another, the region's governments should make a firm pledge to return to the spirit and provisions of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to which all parties concerned previously agreed. In today's world, countries should not fear that coercion and threats will replace rules and laws. I strongly hope that ASEAN member states and China can swiftly establish a truly effective code of conduct for the South China Sea.