Sat, 29 Oct 1994

Workshop sets out framework

BUKITTINGGI, West Sumatra (JP): The participants of the fifth South China Sea workshop have set up a Technical Working Group on Legal Matters in an apparent effort to avoid discussing sensitive territorial and sovereignty claims.

The workshop's organizing committee said in a closing statement issued yesterday that the Working Group, which is scheduled to convene in Thailand next year, will focus on the legal aspects of confidence building measures.

Indonesia's Ambassador-at-Large for the Law of the Sea, Hasjim Djalal, told reporters earlier that a continuation of the Technical Working Group on Marine Scientific Research, whose proposal on bio-diversity had been endorsed by the participants earlier, will be formulated early next year in Hanoi. At that time they expect to finalize their project proposals on the development of a database for information exchange and networking, as well as on sea level and tide monitoring.

The bio-diversity projects, which will be implemented in two stages, will cost US$3.6 million for three years. Hasjim said he will now start to seek donor countries or organizations which are interested in assisting the programs.

"They are not planning to work on huge, money-consuming projects. We are more interested in using these projects as a means to get together and cooperate," Hasjim said.


The workshop on managing potential conflicts in the South China Sea, which is hosted annually by Indonesia, is scheduled to wind up the talks and distribute its preliminary reports today.

In order to manage the overlapping claims in the Spratly and Paracel Islands by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, China and Taiwan, the six claimants, plus five other countries in the region -- Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia -- have agreed that cooperation projects in the South China Sea would be conducive for the development of the region and help prevent open conflicts.

According to Hasjim, the Technical Working Group on Shipping, Navigation and Communications, which was established in the previous workshop in Surabaya last year, but which has never convened due to difficulties in picking a venue, has given Taiwan and China until Dec. 31 to resolve their impasse regarding the venue of the group's first meeting.

Meanwhile, other members of the group are being encouraged to consult their authorities on the possibility of hosting this first meeting in case the impasse between the two countries cannot be resolved.

Yesterday's statement said that the Technical Working Group on Shipping, Navigation and Communication will address topics, which include search and rescue, piracy, drug-trafficking and the problem of refugees.

The five-day workshop, which was attended by almost 70 experts, academics, scientists and government officials on an individual basis, also agreed that it was premature to consider institutionalizing or formalizing the workshop process.

The participants agreed, however, that the implementation of agreed project proposals may require the participation of relevant government agencies, thus resulting in some kind of "formalization" of certain workshop activities.

Participants also agreed that a small staff, or secretariat was needed to support the workshop's activities. This is in line with the earlier proposal raised by Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas at the opening of the workshop.

Non-South China Sea countries, as well as other regional and global organizations, will also be invited to involve themselves and participate in the realization of specific projects of cooperation where necessary; meaning they are welcome to provide technical and financial assistance.

Meanwhile Taiwan's proposal for the expansion of the specific issue of the Spratlys and Paracels to a more general level of "territorial claims and disputes" has not been adopted by the workshop as reported in this paper yesterday.

Taiwan made the proposal after disagreements developed over whether the specific issue should be incorporated and resolved in the workshop. (pwn)