Remarks at the East Asia Summit Ministerial Intervention

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Naypyitaw, Burma
August 10, 2014

Mr. Chairman, His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Fellow Ministers and Secretaries,

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the East Asia Summit next year, this is a natural time to take stock of the direction of the EAS and our efforts to strengthen this critical institution. We support the discussions over the structure and mission of the EAS occurring right now and the mandate for senior officials to bring back their recommendations next year.

I’d like to outline a few thoughts as we embark on this review.

First, we believe the EAS should be the premier forum for leaders to discuss pressing political and security issues in East Asia.

Second, the EAS can help provide strategic guidance to other multilateral fora, including the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum.

Third, we must continue to support ASEAN’s centrality. ASEAN plays an important role in ensuring that all regional voices are heard – and that larger and smaller nations work together to uphold a rules-based order.

I’d also like to discuss three of the pressing challenges facing the region today: maritime security, nonproliferation, and natural disasters.

On maritime security, we all share a responsibility for upholding the rights, freedoms and uses of the sea in a way that fully respects international law. We must work together to build habits of cooperation through efforts such as the Expanded ASEAN Seafarer Training initiative, while also working to uphold safety-at-sea requirements such as the Collision Regulations and procedures such as the recently adopted Codes for Unplanned Encounters at Sea.

I think, we all share the hope that ASEAN and China will accelerate negotiations on a meaningful Code of Conduct, we think the urgency of developments means that it is not enough simply to wait for that solution to arrive. Obvious dangers arise during waiting time. The claimants need to take steps now to lower the temperature.

To do that, we think a simple approach makes sense: Voluntarily and jointly freeze the sorts of activities that “would complicate or escalate disputes.” After all, this is actually a principle the claimants already agreed to more than a decade ago in the Declaration on Conduct, and which would not take away the rights of countries. If claimants came to an understanding about which actions raise tensions or change the facts on the ground and agreed to halt these actions, this would clarify and help implement the 2002 DOC.

But I also want to address what I believe must be the basis for managing differences and at the core of any solution to the disputes in the South China Sea – that’s international law.

We believe it is important for EAS members to reaffirm the importance of claimants’ – all of them, not just one country, complying with international law with respect to their maritime claims. The Obama administration is trying to bring forward the ratification of UNCLOS. But even without ratification, the Obama administration hascommitted to live by the Law of the Sea and does.

Under international law, maritime claims in the South China Sea must be derived from land features. And as we and others have pointed out, all claims need to be in compliance with UNCLOS –whether China’s nine-dash line claim or others.

Our concern is that the lack of clarity with respect to South China Sea claims has actually created uncertainty. And this uncertainty limits the prospect for a mutually agreeable resolution or equitable joint development arrangements. But let me be clear – we believe the obligation to clarify claims in keeping with international law applies to all claimants, not just China.

When countries adhere to an international law-based framework, it is possible to resolve seemingly intractable maritime disputes – Indonesia and the Philippines’ recent delimitation agreement and India’s and Bangladesh’s acceptance of an ICJ decision underscore this point.

The Arbitral Tribunal under the Law of the Sea Convention extended an invitation for China to participate in arbitration proceedings. This invitation presents a valuable opportunity for everybody to present its views to the Arbitral Tribunal, to clarify the legal basis of its maritime claims, and to align them with international law. We believe this process could unlock longer term, “win-win” solutions.

Second, let me say a word about nonproliferation. As President Obama has articulated, peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons. The United States remains committed to that goal, we have already significantly reduced the number of nuclear weapons, and will continue to work with our partners to reduce the number of nuclear weapons.

Our commitment to nuclear nonproliferation means that all of us, as EAS members, must work together to fulfill the core goal of the September 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks: The verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner. The D.P.R.K.’s nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs, together with its continued defiance of its own international obligations and commitments, destabilizes the region, undermines the global nonproliferation regime, and threatens global stability.

I also want to point out that recently we have discovered one concerning development in the nonproliferation sector. We have presented Russia with evidence of its violation of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. I must underscore to all EAS members the important role this Treaty plays in contributing to regional security not just in Europe, but here in the Asia-Pacific as well. The United States is hoping we can work this out with Russia to come back into compliance with its INF Treaty obligations and to remain in the treaty. We hope our Russian colleagues, we are prepared to discuss a resolution of this matter in a senior-level bilateral dialogue immediately.

Finally, let me discuss humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. I very much appreciate the comments from the Philippines Foreign Secretary on this. As we witnessed during recent natural disasters, including during Typhoon Haiyan late last year, there is no shortage of goodwill among members of the East Asia Summit to help each other during their hour of need.

That is why we strongly support, in principle, the Philippine and Australian proposal for leaders to adopt a statement outlining guidelines for Rapid Disaster Response. We believe that this could serve as a useful starting point for building greater regional cooperation and streamlining efforts, which will help save lives and deepen future cooperation.

Once again, I want to thank Foreign Minister UWunna Maung Lwin and his country for hosting this summit, and all of my counterparts here today for their attentive efforts.