Permanent Representative to ASEAN Elizabeth P. Buensuceso addressed the biennial Maritime Security Challenges Conference (MSC 2016), held in Victoria, BC, Canada on 3-8 October 2016. Ambassador Buensuceso discussed the South China Sea as a major security challenge in the Asia Pacific region and how the Philippines and ASEAN are addressing the issue with cooperative diplomatic initiatives while warning about the pitfalls that surround these measures.
MSC 2016 was attended by over 200 international delegates from military and related maritime industries which sent their exclusive senior contingent of professionals involved in all aspects of maritime operations and security, from decision-makers, to academics, to industry suppliers, to well-known and accomplished subject matter experts, from all over the world, including China. Admirals, Rear and Vice Admirals and other flag officers also attended the high-level forum.
In her speech, Ambassador Buensuceso emphasized that arbitration remains to be the anchor response of the Philippines to the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea dispute, Moreover, she also described ASEAN’s various initiatives , including the full and effective implementation of the DOC and the early conclusion of the COC, the establishment of foreign ministry hotlines , the application of the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea ( CUES) to the South China Sea situation and the employment of multilateralism to encourage the peaceful rise of China as a responsible superpower. She also outlined the characteristics of a new regional security architecture that is developing in the Asia-Pacific region with ASEAN at its core. She maintained that bilateral negotiations between the Philippines and China are important but these must be premised on the results of the arbitral ruling. However, she also warned about the pitfalls of each of these measures if not properly managed by the stakeholders in the region. For example, she likened the conclusion of a legally binding COC to the 11th labor of Hercules in the legendary hero's quest for the apples of Hesperides, who, after being side-tracked by so many useless distractions finally found his quest but found out they were no longer useful.
Ambassador Buensuceso recalled how the Philippines, ASEAN, the US, Canada and other countries had reacted to the issuance of the results of the arbitral ruling on 12 July 2016. She explained that while the other countries’ reaction was muted, there was general positive acceptance of the triumph of international law in the David vs Goliath story. She said that she liked the reaction of Canada best stating that “Whether one agrees or not with the ruling, Canada believes that the parties should comply with it. All parties should seize this opportunity as a stepping stone to renewed efforts to peacefully manage and resolve their disputes, in accordance with international law.”
Other speakers in the forum included Admiral Scott H. Swift, Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Rear Admiral Art McDonald, Commander of the Canadian Maritime Forces , Pacific, heads of think tanks, academics and other practitioners of maritime security. Speakers looked at the latest innovations in technology , weaponry and ship-building. They also analyzed other traditional and non-traditional security challenges in the region including terrorism, IUU fishing, climate change, the growth of fishing militias, etc.
Participants were also invited on board the HMCS Calgary, one of Canada’s newly refurbished frigates where a boarding demo of a hostile ship was conducted.
While in Canada, Ambassador Buensuceso took the opportunity to deliver a lecture to students of the Royal Roads University, better known as the venue of the Francis Xavier School for the Gifted, of X-Men fame. She spoke about the forthcoming chairmanship of ASEAN and the priorities and commemorative activities to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN and the 40th of ASEAN-Canada relations. She gave a similar talk to the alumni of the Daniel K. Inouye -Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies which she also attended in 2004.