The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs encouraged the University of Virginia’s Center for Oceans Law and Policy to hold its forty-second annual conference in Beijing and helped to identify law of the sea experts in China and the region to be invited for the program. The conference was held from 23–25 May 2018 on the topic of “Cooperation and Engagement in the Asia-Pacific Region”.
Michael Lodge, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, was a featured speaker on “Reflections on the Status and Prospects for Deep Seabed Mining in 2018”. He announced that the isa has fast-tracked the development of terms and conditions for mineral exploitation increasing expectations that seabed commercial mining will soon occur. Former U.S. ambassador David A. Balton then shared his “Reflections on the Past 25 years of Ocean Law and Policy”. He highlighted serious concerns about mixed success worldwide to make fisheries more sustainable but despite geopolitical tension, noted that the Arctic States and others with significant interests have found ways to cooperate in a warming Arctic Ocean. The third featured speaker was Professor Aldo Chircop from Dalhousie University who discussed the new challenges for international navigation and shipping posed by maritime autonomous surface ships. In particular, he explored and discussed the legal issues in adapting existing rules at the International Maritime Organization for commercial vessels.
Part 1 spotlighted regional cooperation. vadm Hannink, who now heads the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate legal service, spoke on military cooperation and internationalization in the Asia-Pacific region. In his presentation, he examined common interests and cited specific examples of on-going cooperation between the United States and other nations in the Asia-Pacific region. Professor Yann-hui Song from Taipei, Taiwan discussed the idea of promoting joint marine and cruise tourism in the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. He suggests that this effort would enhance maritime cooperation and development in this important East Asian semi-enclosed sea. Next, former International Tribunal for Law of the Sea Judge Helmut Tuerk pointed out that as a semi-enclosed sea the States bordering the South China Sea had a general directive to work together pursuant to the 1982 Convention. The Judge noted the existence of a framework for cooperation in a Code of Conduct that would establish a cooperative mechanism for bordering States. Xinjun Zhang of Tsinghua University discusses jurisdictional and substantive aspects in unclos article 83(3) dealing with provisional arrangements pending final agreement on delimitation of a continental shelf dispute where sovereignty over continental or insular land is not involved. Professor Zhang endorses a need to balance the interests of States in pursuing economic development pending delimitation.
Part 2 put a focus on protection and preservation of the marine environment. Professor Daniel Rittschof of the Duke University Marine Laboratory endorses developing technology as a necessary next step to meet demands for food and to help restore marine environments. He believes unclos has the structure to address these concerns. Law professor Chie Kojima of Musashino University examines the unclos duty to negotiate or consult in good faith. Dr. Kojima considers global, regional and sub-regional organizations formed pursuant to the fish stocks agreement, whaling in Antarctic case, and with respect to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Environmental Impact Assessments were the marine environment topic for Tianbao Qin and Fang Hou of Wuhan University’s Institute of Boundary and Ocean Studies. They believe that the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (itlos) have facilitated the development of rules for environmental impact assessment. Lastly Professor Stephan A. Macko of the Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia commented on increasing challenges to the future marine environment. He pinpoints chemical and physical forces that could alter entire ecosystems such as rising ocean acidity, waste plastics and increasing ocean temperatures.
Part 3 deals with freedom of navigation. Dr. Nong Hong of the Institute of China-American Studies located in Washington, DC, outlines the perspectives of the United States and China in the South China Sea dispute. She notes their divergent legal interpretations and discusses the relationship between military activities and freedom of navigation. The next contribution was by James Kraska, the Stockton Professor of International Law at the US Naval War College. Professor Kraska provides an archival history of the creation and early implementation of the US freedom of navigation program. The third speaker was the Vice President of both the Asian Society of International Law and the Chinese Society of the Law of the Sea, Xinmin Ma. He spoke on military activities in a foreign eez and covered five issues from a positivist perspective: right to conduct, legal framework, determining legality, resolving conflicts and lex ferenda. The last speaker in this Part was Associate Professor Lan-Anh Nguyen, Vice Dean of the International Law Faculty of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam. She explained the freedom of navigation practices of Vietnam.
Part 4 on straits governance featured two contributors. The first was Professor Ted L. McDorman of the Faculty of Law, University of Victoria, Canada. His comments were primarily on legal uncertainties concerning the unclos international straits regime followed by a brief look at the specific regimes in Jeju Strait, Korean Strait and Strait of Hainan. The second paper was jointly prepared by Professor Robert Beckman of the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore and Dita Liliansa a Research Associate at the nus Centre for International Law. Their presentation was on “Passage through Indonesian Waters on Routes used for International Navigation”.
Part 5 shifted to search and rescue (sar) operations. Associate Professor Yubing Shi from the South China Sea Institute at Xiamen University first examines the current global and regional regulatory framework and then identifies the challenges in this framework for furthering the construction of a regional sar cooperation mechanism in the South China Sea. The second paper was jointly submitted by Richard (Rick) Button Chief, Coordination Division, sar Office, U.S. Coast Guard and Tom Gorgol of the Mass Rescue Operations, sar Office, U.S, Coast Guard. Their comprehensive review discusses the lessons learned from previous maritime disasters and identifies challenges sar authorities must consider when planning, coordinating and conducting mass rescue operations at sea.
Part 6 was devoted to sustainable fisheries. Professor Kuan-Hsiung Wang of the Graduate Institute of Political Science in Taiwan highlighted the problem of deterring the expansion of illegal, unreported and unregulated (iuu) fishing activities. He then reviewed recent instruments and practices in international fisheries law for dealing with iuu fishing activities. The third paper was co-authored by Kathryn Youel Page of the Office of Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State and Alexis J. Ortis, an attorney in her office. They concluded that the use of the term “fisheries crime” to encompass and expand the concept of iuu fishing is counterproductive to efforts to understand and address iuu fishing in an international fisheries management context.
The last Part looks to future cooperation, particularly with respect to the negotiations for a new marine biodiversity instrument beyond national jurisdiction (bbnj). The Director of the World Maritime University’s Global Ocean Institute, Nippon Foundation, Professor Ronán Long and John Brincat of the European Commission provide a comprehensive survey of the evolution of the bbnj negotiations. They trace the genesis of the Preparatory Committee 2016–2017 and review its unique role in advancing the negotiation process towards the convening of an intergovernmental conference in 2018. J. Ashley Roach, retired from the Office of Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State and now Visiting Senior Principal Research Fellow, Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore, then updates the bbnj negotiations through its first intergovernmental conference in 2018.
Editorial note: Conference PowerPoint presentations are available at