Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop today 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.
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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,” Bishop 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. 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.