Wed, Mar 14, 2018 - Page 6 News List

International law key to settling conflict: Australia

SOUTH CHINA SEA:Australia’s foreign minister was not expected to name China, but to stress how rules-based order would regulate rivalries and fair competition

Reuters, SYDNEY

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop speaks at the UN General Assembly during International Women’s Day on Thursday last week.

Photo: UN via AP

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop yesterday was to hail the role of international law in settling regional conflicts, comments apparently aimed at bolstering Australian efforts to build a coalition against Chinese assertiveness.

Bishop, in a speech ahead of a special meeting of ASEAN in Sydney, would not name China, but would argue that international law would stabilize a region strained by rival claims in the South China Sea, according to a leaked draft of the speech seen by the Australian Financial Review.

“The rules-based order is designed to regulate behavior and rivalries of and between states, and ensure countries compete fairly and in a way that does not threaten others or destabilize their region or the world,” Bishop was to say in the speech.

“It places limitations on the extent to which countries use their economic or military power to impose unfair agreements on less powerful nations,” the draft speech says.

China claims most of the South China Sea, an important trade route which is believed to contain large quantities of oil and natural gas, and has been building artificial islands on reefs, some with ports and air strips.

Taiwan as well as ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines also have claims in the sea.

Australia, a staunch US ally with no claim to the South China Sea, has long maintained its neutrality on the dispute to protect economic relationship with China.

However, with Canberra’s relations with China souring in recent months, Bishop’s comment underscore a new Australian tactic.

“Australia is trying to get ASEAN on side with the notion that China is a rule-breaker that everyone would be better served by abiding by,” said Nick Bisley, professor of international relations at Melbourne’s La Trobe University.

“If it can get ASEAN to use that language, it will strengthen Australia’s position considerably,” Bisley said.

ASEAN and China in August last year began talks to develop a code of conduct for the South China Sea, though a deal is unlikely before next year, Singaporean Minister of Defence Ng Eng Hen (黃永宏) said last month.

The South China Sea issue is set to dominate the unofficial agenda of a special three-day meeting of ASEAN countries and Australia beginning on Friday.

Officially, the summit will focus on fostering closer economic ties among the 10-member ASEAN and Australia, and countering the threat of Muslim militants returning to the region from the Middle East.

Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to travel to Sydney, where she will hold bilateral talks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is under pressure to publicly condemn the deaths and expulsion of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine State over recent months.

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