On 29 April, the European Union, Viet Nam and Australia co-chaired the 12th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Inter-Sessional Meeting on Maritime Security (ISM). The ARF ISM was held virtually. Officials of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the European Union Naval Force Operation Atalanta, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam and from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia represented the respective delegations. More than 100 officials from ARF members attended this meeting.
Joanneke Balfoort, Director for Security and Defence Policy of the European External Action Service, noted in her opening remarks that EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta is an example of the EU’s inclusive approach to maritime security. She underlined that the inclusive character of maritime security cooperation is a leitmotiv for the EU’s outreach to the ARF region.
Director-General Vu Ho, ASEAN Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, noted in his opening remarks that maritime security and cooperation continued to enjoy high priority and active contributions from the ARF participants. He also emphasised that it is in the common interest of all to work together to maintain and promote peace, stability, security, and the rules-based order at sea. In this regard, the ARF plays an important role of fostering dialogue, mutual trust and confidence on maritime issues pertinent to regional peace and security.
Justin Whyatt, Assistant Secretary Indo-Pacific Strategy and Regional Maritime Branch of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, highlighted the importance of maritime security to the region and ARF’s role in fostering practical collaboration. He underlined the centrality of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in responding to maritime challenges. He encouraged countries to support more work to promote cooperation between maritime law enforcement agencies.
Australia, Viet Nam and the EU co-chaired the ARF cycle on Maritime Security from 2018 to 2021. During this cycle, ARF Participants have organized various activities and workshops on a wide range of topics and priority areas. These have included, among others, implementing the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), enhancing maritime law enforcement cooperation, maritime domain awareness, ferry safety and dispute resolution and the law of the sea. Additional workshops and activities have been prepared for implementation in the 2018-2021 Work Plan.
The Australia, Viet Nam, and EU co-chairs emphasised the central role of maritime law enforcement agencies as the first responders and front-line actors in addressing maritime security challenges. They have organised three workshops on Enhancing Regional Maritime Law Enforcement Cooperation. These workshops reviewed many examples of maritime law enforcement cooperation and their operational, policy and legal aspects. ARF members shared best practices in managing incidents at sea, building capacities to fight maritime crimes and making seas safe for the exercise of navigational freedoms. The co-chairs noted the significant progress made in these workshops and recognised that further efforts are needed to develop guidelines for maritime law enforcement cooperation.
Viet Nam, the EU and Australia encouraged a discussion among all ARF participants about priorities for the next ARF Maritime Security Work Plan to move forward cooperation in accordance with the ARF Ha Noi Plan of Action II (2020-2025). In this regard, the co-chairs expressed interest in maintaining the momentum gained in areas such as maritime law enforcement cooperation and UNCLOS implementation, while exploring further cooperation in other areas such as climate change and marine pollution. As the ARF is becoming more action-oriented, the co-chairs encouraged the planning of more practical activities in the next cycle. The co-chairs also stressed the importance of promoting complementarities and synergy with other ASEAN-led mechanisms related to maritime security and cooperation.