Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Tuesday said her country opposes Beijing’s construction of artificial reefs and their militarisation in the disputed South China Sea, holding that freedom of navigation must be ensured.
The minister, who was delivering a lecture here, said at the same time that there was a need to engage with Beijing as it would be in no one’s interest to see the Chinese economy falter.
“Rising nationalism is leading to a narrow definition of national interest and a more transactional approach in negotiations. These factors reduce the prospects of multilateral cooperation in collective interest,” said Bishop, who is on a two-day visit here.
China has constructed artificial reefs in the resource- rich South China and has been ramping up military infrastructure there despite stiff opposition from countries including Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines, which are involved in the territorial dispute.
“We continue to oppose the construction of artificial reefs and militarisation of those structures in the South China Sea,” the visiting minister said. India has commercial interests in the South China Sea and has been pressing for resolving the dispute as per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, besides advocating freedom of navigation in the resource-rich area. Bishop said the right to freedom of navigation must be ensured as it its crucial for trade.
“It is important that all states respect international laws including the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) using it as a guide to resolve disputes,” she said while delivering the Second Indo-Pacific Oration, organised by think-tank ORF and the Australian High Commission.
“Our objective must be to encourage China to exercise its economic and strategic weight in a way that respects the sovereign equality of states that upholds and strengthen the rules-based order and benefits all nations,” she said. The Australian foreign minister also “applauded” India for successfully and peacefully resolving a long-running maritime dispute with Bangladesh in 2014 under the provisions of the UNCLOS.
Bishop emphasised on the need to “close the gaps” for an early conclusion of the negotiations for a free trade agreement between India and Australia. She said that in years to come, the greatest hope of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region lies in all nations “respecting and contributing to international law to protect national sovereignty” of other nations and strengthen the norms that guide relations between countries. “In the Indian Ocean, we need a collective leadership of Australia, India, Indonesia and other partners to ensure a strong rule-based culture is respected,” she said. Bishop also pitched for strengthening the Indian Ocean Rim Association forum.
She also said Australia has always supported India’s bid for a seat in the United Nations Security Council “to better reflect contemporary realities”.
Bishop welcomed the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and said this will increase India’s competitiveness, enable it to open up its market and benefit from trade opportunities.
She also called for a quadrilateral maritime exercise involving India, Australia and other Indo-Pacific countries. As India looks to increase its energy supply security through a combination of traditional, nuclear and renewable resources to support its growth, Australia is more poised as reliable supplier of resources and technology, she said. India and Australia have signed a nuclear cooperation agreement under which it latter can supply uranium.