Australia accuses China of raising 'anxiety' in disputed sea

Australia accuses China of raising 'anxiety' in disputed sea
In this Dec. 10, 2015 photo, Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne addresses the luncheon at Knowledge Society forum.
Knowledge Society / Rick Stevens

MANILA, Philippines — Beijing's militarization of its artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea has caused anxiety in the region instead of increasing regional trust and confidence, Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne said.

Speaking before the Fullerton Forum, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting in Singapore, the Australian defense chief urged China to resolve maritime disputes in accordance with international law.

"The building and militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea, for instance, has not increased regional confidence in China’s strategic intentions. Instead, it has increased anxiety," Pyne said in his keynote speech.

Pyne stressed that complying with international law would build confidence in Beijing's willingness to support a culture that would respect all concerned states.

China has been refusing to acknowledge a July 2016 arbitral ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal that invalidated its expansive nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

"As the exhortation goes, 'to those that much is given, much is expected', similarly for nation states, for those with great power comes great responsibility, and so I call on China to act with great responsibility in the South China Sea," Pyne said.

Defense representatives from at least 24 countries attended the forum, where Australia expressed its willingness to participate in multilateral activities in international waters.

Pyne clarified that Canberra is "not interested in containing China" but in engaging and encouraging it to "exercise its power in ways that increase regional trust and confidence.

In the past year, Beijing has deployed anti-cruise ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jamming equipment on its "big three" islands — Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs — which are also being claimed by the Philippines.

Australia, along with France, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, are among the countries that increased freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.

Just last year, the Chinese Navy challenged Australian warships passing through the South China Sea.

A report from ABC News indicated that HMAS Anzac, HMAS Toowoomba and HMAS Success were en route to Vietnam when the confrontation with China's People's Liberation Army Navy occurred in April 2018.

The Chinese Navy was holding naval exercises in the contested waterway when the confrontation happened. An Australian Defense official described the exchanges between the two parties as polite but "robust," according to the report. — Patricia Lourdes Viray

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