Japanese ambassador to Cambodia Atsushi Ueno urged upholding a rule-based maritime order to maintain an unimpeded and cooperative sea, noting that the ocean is vital for free trade.

He made the statement at a seminar on “The Law of the Sea: Towards Peaceful Maritime Cooperation in Southeast Asia” on February 19, organised by the Cambodian Centre for Regional Studies (CCRS) in Phnom Penh. 

Ueno said the world is becoming increasingly unstable and complex. Along with numerous conflicts, such as the Israel-Hamas and the Russia- Ukraine wars, there are diverse global threats and challenges that are creating geopolitical and geoeconomic risks. 

He noted that in the Asia-Pacific region, there seems to be an increasing number of attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force or threat of force. He added that interest in the development of marine and fishery resources is growing due to rising global food and energy prices, as well as the increasing demand for rare earth elements.

He also stressed the necessity to take action against transnational crimes such as drug trafficking and migrant smuggling, which also pose challenges. 

“In this challenging situation, upholding international order based on international law is crucial,” he said.

“The economies of both Japan and Cambodia rely on trade with other nations. Oceans play a critical role in facilitating free trade, which is based on maritime freedom, and serve as a vital source of indispensable resources. Upholding a rule-based order of oceans is imperative for maintaining free and secure oceans,” he said. 

Ueno also cited the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which regulates the rules on territorial waters, exclusive economic zones and international seas. 

“It also regulates fisheries, maritime security, environmental preservation and the use of seabed resources. It provides for vital rules and venues for settling disputes over the issues under the purview of the convention. Given the context in the Asia-Pacific region, UNCLOS plays a significant role, and thus it is important for us to have correct understanding on it,” he said.

UNCLOS was signed in 1982 and 169 parties have ratified the international agreement. 

Bordering the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia serves as a key waterway for global trade, according to CCRS’ seminar concept note. 

“For maritime states within Southeast Asia, regional and international cooperation is indispensable to protect maritime rights and interests and promote cooperation on areas such as protection and preservation of the marine environment, marine scientific research, development and transfer of marine technology and dispute resolution,” said CCRS executive director Him Raksmey at the seminar. 

“For a small state like Cambodia, subscribing to international laws and norms on the maritime domain, including UNCLOS and its judicial body like the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea strengthens the country’s position in protecting its maritime interests and bring benefits such as the prevention of illegal, unreported and unregulated [IUU] fishing and the promotion of marine biodiversity to support sustainable development of Cambodia’s sea and coastal region,” he said.