EU-ASEAN and the South China Sea Maritime territorial disputes, power rivalries and economic interests.


22 October 2019


Copernic Science14 Atrium, Strasbourg & Luxembourg Conference Room, 14b, rue de la Science, 1040 Brussels, Belgium

After a couple of relatively stable years in the South China Sea (SCS), tensions are flaring up again this year. We have witnessed the Vietnamese and Chinese deployments of oil rigs and ships, the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat reportedly by a Chinese vessel, and frequent and unprecedented operations conducted by the US and its allies.

China has continued to build up military facilities on its artificial islands, and some domestic groups in Southeast Asian countries have protested against China’s influence.

While tensions are building around the Spratly and Paracel Islands, the areas of territorial contention extend beyond the South China Sea: East China Sea, Sea of Japan or even further north in Okhotsk Sea.

Meanwhile, China and ASEAN are negotiating a Code of Conduct in the SCS, a process they started in 2002 and aim to finish by 2022. Part of the obstacle of reaching an agreement is differences among ASEAN countries because of China’s significant influence over the less developed countries.

Since July 1, 2019, China has adopted a new and aggressive strategy by sending its geological and ocean exploration vessels accompanied by an armada of coastguard ships and the maritime militia to Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Washington remains firm on the freedom of navigation in the area. The EU has just signed an EU-Vietnam defense agreement, the first between Brussels and an ASEAN country. Brussels also asks for respect of international laws.

Why do these tensions, which are a priori regional, draw the attention of the major powers such as the United States, Russia, the India, Japan, the EU, France, the UK?

What are the challenges faced by the EU and the international community in this area? Are these territory claims the emerging part of China’s maritime strategy?

What are the interests of EU and especially, of France, an Asia-Pacific maritime power? Where is the EU in the Indo-Pacific concept?

What are the chances of resolving the South China Sea dispute?

Wouldn’t the best response to these conflicts be international law such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea?


Entry Free of charge — Online Registration



Course of the event

(under Chatham House rules)


14:30-15:00  Registration and Coffee


15:00-15:05  Welcome and Introductory Remarks

  • Mrs. Candice Tran Dai, Vice-President, Asia Centre


15:05-15:25  The current situation in the South China Sea, facts and perspectives

  • Mr. Bruno Hellendorff, Joint Research Fellow, Egmont Institute-European Policy Centre


15:25-15:40  The EU’s view, relationship and perspective with Asia-Pacific and maritime issues in                                                                         the South China Sea

  • Mr. Oren Wolff, EEAS — European External Action Service


15:40-17:25  Roundtable

European and international issues in the South China Sea:                                                                                                                            China strategy; strategy of Southeast Asian countries and regional-international power

Security, defense, diplomacy and economic stakes: the role of the EU and in particular, the role of France, as a maritime power in Asia-Pacific in dispute resolution.

  • Possible implications, especially for “external” actors such as the EU or France into the conclusion of a Code of Conduct between China and ASEAN.
  • The concrete cooperation and actions that can be articulated in this framework. In particular between France and the EU for a working base for the future.
  • The concrete courses of action for the EU’s diplomacy and member states.
  • What the EU is doing in the framework of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and its relationship with ASEAN.
  • What practical actions in a multilateral framework? What can be the specific cooperation between France and the EU? What already exists?
  • “The place of EU in the South China Sea “game”, diplomatically and military balance between the US, China and some regional powers like India and Japan. And, where is the EU in Indo-Pacific concept?



  • Candice Tran Dai, Vice-President, Asia Centre


  • Marianne Peron-Doise, Senior Researcher, IRSEM, CERI-Sciences-Po (France)
  • Hubert Testard, Researcher & Teacher, Science-Po Paris (France)
  • Steven Everts, EEAS — European External Action Service
  •  Bill Hayton, Associate Fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House & Fellow, Royal Geographical Society (UK)
  • Eva Pejsova (Fondation pour la Recherche stratégique, FRS)


17:25-17:55  Q&A


17:55-18:00  Concluding Remarks & Acknowledgment


 18:00-19:00  Cocktail & Media Activities



  • Candice Tran-Dai, Asia Centre


  • VO Trung Dung, Asie Pacifique Média.

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