ROILO GOLEZ, Philippine National Security Adviser (2001-2004). The world and the Philippines as Roilo Golez sees it. With focus on national security, geopolitics, geo-security, economics, science and government.
Sunday, May 31, 2015
South China Sea dispute: Strong indication Australia will join push back on China's island-building , Sydney Morning Herald
South China Sea dispute: Strong indication Australia will join push back on China's island-building
Defence Minister Kevin Andrews has issued the Abbott government's strongest signal yet that Australia is prepared to join the United States and other countries in pushing back against China's island-building and militarisation in the South China Sea.
Further hardening Australia's stance, Mr Andrews has used a speech at a key Asian security conference to state unequivocal opposition to large-scale land reclamation – a clear dig at China's island-building and positioning of military hardware on the disputed Spratly Islands chain.
His remarks to the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore, which was attended by top Asia-Pacific defence officials including from China, closely echo those of US counterpart Ashton Carter, as worried countries across the region present an increasingly united front against Beijing's assertiveness.
Mr Andrews issued a thinly veiled warning that other countries in the region will respond if Beijing persists, saying that actions in international security tend to produce "a corresponding counter-reaction".
"As with Newton's principles, aspects of international security are often characterised by an action and a corresponding counter-reaction," he said. "In making decisions, countries and leaders should always be wary of the consequences, intended or otherwise, of a particular course of action and the potential for these actions to lead to escalation and miscalculation."
Mr Andrews added that Australia had a "legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability ... unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation" – a possible signal that the Abbott government could, as Fairfax Media reported last week, take part in joint military exercises close to the Spratly Islands as a show of defiance against China's claims.
Separately, Mr Andrews told the Wall Street Journal that Australia asserted its right to continue flying military patrols over the contested area – a rejection of any attempt by China to declare an air defence identification zone – but said there had been no formal talks with the US about naval freedom-of-navigation exercises.
High among the region's concerns are that China will follow its precedent in its dispute with Japan in the East China Sea and declare an air defence identification zone over the waters further south.
Such a move "depends on whether our security in air and maritime will be threatened and extensive factors will be taken into consideration", Admiral Sun Jianguo, a deputy chief of staff of China's People's Liberation Army, said, in an address which rejected criticisms, including from the US, that China's actions were "out of step" with international norms.
He said the construction was "justified, legitimate and reasonable", and that the projects are for the purpose of providing "international public services" including maritime search and rescue, research and environmental protection.
Fairfax Media has reported that China has been shifting weapons onto artificial islands that it has built up from previously submerged atolls among the Spratly Islands.
Pentagon officials confirmed it had been aware of two motorised artillery guns, which it believed have since been removed.
Dr Carter, the US Defence Secretary, called for an "immediate and lasting halt" to the Chinese expansion and vowed that the US would defy any attempt by Beijing to impede freedom of navigation in the area.
"Turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit," he said.
China is locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea with several neighbours including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
There are particular fears that as well as using the military build-up to enforce its territorial claims, China could also threaten freedom of navigation through some of the world's busiest shipping lanes, which Australia relies upon heavily for its international trade.
In the past, Australian ministers have stressed Australia does not take sides in these competing claims, but Mr Andrews pointedly struck a tougher pose on Sunday.
"Australia has made clear its opposition to any coercive or unilateral actions to change the status quo in the South and East China Sea," Mr Andrews said.
"This includes any large-scale land reclamation activity by claimants in the South China Sea.
"We are particularly concerned at the prospect of militarisation of artificial structures."
Mr Andrews cloaked his language by avoiding mentioning China directly, rather calling on "all parties" to stop large-scale reclamation and "refrain from provocative actions".
But while other countries have for decades carried out some building on islands in the South China Sea, China has done more in the past 18 months than all other countries combined throughout history.