Speech by Prime Minister Rutte roundtable conference International Law and Order at Sea

Mark Rutte held this speech at the conference in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Minister Son,
Ambassador Horinouchi,
Professor Fred Soons,
Dr Pham Lan Zung,
Ladies and gentlemen,

As a history graduate, I love the idea that this conference on international law and order at sea has its roots in the Netherlands over 400 years ago.
Because it was then, in 1609, that the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius published his groundbreaking work Mare Liberum, on the right of free navigation at sea, laying the first foundation for what is today the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The sea has always been essential to our contact with others and the development of trade.
That is especially true for Vietnam and the Netherlands.
This year, we’re celebrating 50 years of diplomatic ties.
But contacts between our peoples go back more than four centuries, to when a Dutch ship sailed into the port of Hoi An.
In those days, the sea was our only means of reaching out to other countries. And other people.
But even today, no less than 60 per cent of all Vietnamese exports to the European market come ashore at the Port of Rotterdam, by sea.

In 1625 Hugo Grotius published an even more groundbreaking book called De jure belli ac pacis, or On the Law of War and Peace.
This book is widely acknowledged as the starting point of international law and the rules-based international order as we know it today.
Ever since then, the Netherlands has been associated with international law.
Especially my hometown of The Hague, which is known as the legal capital of the world.
Today it hosts the International Court of Justice, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Criminal Court, the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine, as well as the International Commission on Missing Persons, which is so important to your country and has a Vietnamese commissioner on its board.

Minister Son, in a few moments we’ll celebrate the achievements of the graduates of the international law training programme, run jointly by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and the Dutch Clingendael Institute.
That partnership, together with your attendance here today – and mine too I hope – underlines our countries’ firm shared commitment to upholding the rules-based international order.
And the great importance we attach to law and order at sea.
But that’s not surprising, as both Vietnam and the Netherlands have long coastlines and depend on open seas to facilitate international trade.
As maritime trading nations, we both know that oceans are the arteries of the global economy.

That’s why the Netherlands actively engages with Vietnam and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region in pursuit of our common interests.
Especially when it comes to maintaining maritime security and safe passage in the South China Sea or East Sea.
That is of paramount importance, since one third of global shipments pass through it.

The South China Sea is a region that is clearly strategically important to many different states.
So we need international law to prevent those states’ legitimate interests being harmed.
Not to mention the environment and biodiversity.
One positive example of conflict resolution is the ongoing negotiation process on the Code of Conduct between ASEAN and China.
It is important to continue these talks.
And as they continue, it’s important for all governments to act in accordance with international law and refrain from undermining the legitimate interests of other states.

Joint solutions are always preferable to litigation.
But when necessary, it’s essential that countries can invoke international law, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to protect their legitimate interests.
Conversely, this means that we have to follow through on our own international commitments.
And we must be prepared to change when our own behaviour is at odds with international law.

Rules apply to all of us, large countries and smaller ones.
Not only in the area of maritime law, but also when it comes to aviation, labour law, the environment, human rights, and – of course – in matters of war and peace.
Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine being a case in point.
It is essential to uphold peace and stability in the world in order to prevent big, powerful countries dictating to other smaller countries.
In a world where might is right, the legitimate interests of smaller nations like Vietnam and the Netherlands would be vulnerable.

Nation states have always had their differences, and will continue to in the future.
But international law enables us to overcome those differences peacefully.
By taking part in this course, you’ve demonstrated your commitment to the international legal order.
You’ve achieved something important and meaningful.
Well done and congratulations.
You can now go out there with your newly acquired skills and pursue Vietnam’s legitimate interests, sharing your expertise with others, and working together with international partners from the Netherlands and elsewhere.
I’m proud and grateful to be part of today’s celebration.
And I wish you all the best for the future.

Thank you.