Australia urged Southeast Asia’s regional bloc and China to conclude a legally-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, voicing opposition yesterday to the scale of reclamation and construction by China in the disputed territory.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, speaking in Manila, urged the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China to exceed the ongoing discussions to craft a framework of the code of conduct and to instead conclude an enforceable code of conduct as soon as possible.
“We believe that ASEAN should drive for an enforceable code of conduct,” Bishop told the forum of the ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies. “I would urge ASEAN under the Philippines’ leadership to go further and conclude a code of conduct as soon as possible.”
She said the Hague-based arbitration tribunal’s recommendations on a case filed by the Philippines against China can form the basis of that code of conduct.
The tribunal last year invalidated China’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea and ruled that China violated the rights of Filipinos to fish at Scarborough Shoal, which lies off the northwestern Philippines. Beijing had seized Scarborough in 2012 after a dangerous standoff with Philippine vessels.
China has since allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the shoal, but it does not recognize the tribunal’s ruling as valid and insists it has historical claims to almost the entire South China Sea.
“Australia opposes the scale of reclamation and reconstruction that has occurred and certainly we do not support militarization by any party of the islands and the other features in the South China Sea because it would raise tensions, it would raise the prospect of conflict,” Bishop added.
She said a rules-based international order is fundamental to prosperity and stability of countries in the region and “we should all advocate for its preservation and be prepared to defend it, even fight for it, should that be necessary.”
Australia supports U.S. leadership to preserve that order and safeguard international peace but is also committed to a strong Australian defense force to defend its own security interests, she said. Australia will spend USD195 billion over the next decade on improving its military and intelligence capability, Bishop added. AP