Peace in South China Sea vital for Australian trade, foreign minister says

Posted on March 17, 2017

AUSTRALIA’S vital trade interests in Southeast and North Asia require that countries in the region peacefully resolve their disputes, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a news conference.

She specifically cited the need for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China to come up with a Code of Conduct (CoC) on the South China Sea (SCS).

“We have a deep interest in the South China Sea, we’re not a claimant state, but the majority of there is trade with North Asia and beyond Eastern and the South China Seas,” Ms. Bishop said in a news conference at the Peninsula Manila earlier.

As such, she added that it is in Australia’s interest that freedom of navigation and of overflight on the South China Sea remain, for “unimpeded access of trade and people.”

Citing the economic growth of Australia -- which has entered its 26th consecutive year of economic growth -- and the Philippines -- which posted growth of 6.8% in 2016 -- Ms. Bishop said that growth was brought about by “opportunities that arise when the region is peaceful and stable.”

Ms. Bishop cited the reported militarization of features in contested territories, without naming any nation in particular, as holding the potential to raise tensions and result in conflict.

Ms. Bishop, based on the July 2016 Hague ruling that favored the Philippines on contested territories in the South China Sea, urged that the framework to the CoC being drafted by ASEAN states and China this year be enforceable based on the ruling.

“That arbitration sets out very clear advice on what gives rise to a maritime claim and clarifies the situation to the South China Sea,” Ms. Bishop said. “We believe that ASEAN should drive for an enforceable CoC.”

Sought for further comment, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario told reporters on the sidelines of the press conference that the Philippines, as chair of the ASEAN, could influence the agenda in favor of our contested claims.

“I think as chair of ASEAN, we have a great opportunity to be able to influence the agenda,” Mr. del Rosario said. “I’m of the belief that that framework will be futile if it does not include the arbitral tribunal outcome, because you’re talking about the rule of law and the results of the outcome is part of international law and it should be included, and we should work towards that.”

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay -- whose confirmation was rejected by the Commission on Appointments last week -- said in February that there was no unanimity among ASEAN states when it comes to the inclusion of the arbitral ruling in the framework to the CoC.

For his part, in a separate press conference, acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo said that negotiations on the framework to the CoC are currently underway, but declined to comment on what has been negotiated.

“What we’ll be guided by are many elements which would tend to provide the basis providing more cooperation in the SCS and of course measures which would provide greater stability to help promote peaceful settlements in any disputes and definitely measures which we’ll tend to avoid raising tensions in the SCS,” he said. -- Lucia Edna P. de Guzman