Indian Ocean should be for peace and not competition

December 29, 2016

The Indian Ocean should be used for peaceful purposes and not become a "theatre of great power competition", a noted diplomat and lawyer said today while asserting that countries should emulate India's example to settle their maritime disputes. 

"We should act in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The sea should be used for peaceful purposes," said Tommy Koh, who has served as president of the third UN Conference on Law of Sea. 

Koh, also Singapore's ambassador at large at a workshop on 'the Maritime Governance In South Asia: The Potential For Trade, Security and Sustainable Development', said that countries should refrain from using the sea to launch attacks on their neighbours. 

"If disputes arise between states, they should be settled peacefully, in accordance with international law," he said at the workshop organised by the Institute of South Asian Studies, a Singapore think tank. 

"We want relations between states to be based on the rule of law and not on might is right. We do not want the Indian Ocean to become a theatre of great power competition. States should cooperate with one another to suppress piracy and other threats to international shipping," he added. 

The law governing the Indian Ocean is international law including UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Koh said while regretting the fact that not all Indian Ocean Rim countries were parties to the convention. 

While noting disputes on territorial claims, Koh said that several countries have settled their disputes over maritime boundaries peacefully and in accordance with the law. 

He cited the example of Bangladesh and India having referred to their dispute to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, as well as Bangladesh and Myanmar having referred their dispute to arbitration.

"I hope that other states, with outstanding maritime boundary disputes, will emulate the examples of Bangladesh, India and Myanmar," said Koh in a veiled reference to China at the opening of the two-day workshop. 

China claims the whole of disputed South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the area. 

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