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Australia reasserts stance vs South China Sea militarization

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop answers questions from members of the press during a lunch event at The Manila Peninsula in Makati City. Philstar.com/Jonathan Asuncion

MANILA, Philippines —  Australia's top diplomat on Thursday stressed that they oppose the scale of China's reclamation and reconstruction activities in the disputed South China Sea.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that Australia "certainly does not support militarization of any part of the features of the South China Sea."

The Australia's top diplomat, however, acknowledged that they are not a claimant state in the disputed waters.

"Australia's position on the South China Sea has been consistent throughout. We are not a claimant state and we recognize the need for claimant states to resolve the differences... necessary to resort to international law," Bishop said in a lunch event with members of the press at The Manila Peninsula in Makati City.

Bishop noted that the ruling released by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the Philippines' complaint against China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea sends a clear advice on how to resolve the maritime dispute.

The arbitral ruling could be a basis of a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, which is being discussed by China, and claimant states with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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China's activities in the South China Sea raise tension in the region and Australia wants to see de-escalation in militaristic behavior, Bishop said.

"We have deep interest in the South China Sea," Bishop said, adding that majority of their trade passes through the contested waters.

Bishop said that Australia will continue to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said that the Philippines is open to greater cooperation with its neighbors including Australia.

Aside from a "comprehensive partnership" between the two countries, Australia is the Philippines' largest source of grants after the United States.

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