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Australia: The “Peace Keeper” in South China Sea?

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News Analysis |

Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop will emphasize on the role of international law in settling regional conflicts in order to contain China’s influence in the disputed South China Sea, in a speech ahead of a special meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Sydney.

China claims on the South China Sea in order to take an important trade route a to contain large quantities of oil and natural gas while Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, all of which are members of ASEAN, and Taiwan also have claims in the sea.

Read more: South China Sea becomes global and regional threat

The riches of South China Sea and current dispute

The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Territorial and jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea continue to strain relations between China and other countries in Southeast Asia, risking a military escalation.

The South China Sea is 3.5 million square kilometers of the underlying bedrock, which contains oil and natural gas deposits that are estimated to be at least equal to Mexico’s and, by some contested Chinese estimates, might be second only to Saudi Arabia’s. Also home to lucrative fisheries and supply routes that carry 80 percent of China’s crude imports, the territorially disputed region may be the most strategically important waterway of the 21st century. $3.37 trillion worth of trade crossed through the South China Sea in 2016

For centuries, these waters also have been vital to the economic survival of neighboring Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

Read more: The South China Sea heats up as US and China lock…

Attempts to solve the dispute

The US has set its ships and planes near disputed islands, calling them “freedom of navigation” operations to ensure access to key shipping and air routes. China and the US both are militarizing the South China Sea.

Actually, it is a dispute over territory and sovereignty over ocean areas, and the Paracels and the Spratlys. These are two island chains claimed in whole or in part by a number of countries.

Read more: What is the Importance of South China Sea for the US

Since the early 2000s, China has progressively stepped up its campaign to deny American intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone and increasingly beyond. Earlier this month, a Chinese surveillance aircraft flew dangerously close to intercept US Navy P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft flying over the South China Sea.

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

Australia being close ally of the United States is promoting the US role in the global affairs. The “quad” consisting of Australia, US, Japan and India has introduced an informal initiative in order to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Trump may have put more pressure on regional allies, particularly Japan and Australia, to contribute more to multilateral efforts aimed at countering in Chinese growing maritime ambitions.

Moreover, Australia wants to be aligned with the ASEAN to contain China’s influence. Australia is emphasizing the international laws while the international norms such as like the law of the sea, in a way that furthers their national interest. These rules based on the US strategic thinking and in other way the US makes the rules and the others have to follow. It is a fact in international politics that all countries formulate their national and international policies pursuing their own interests.  In the current global geostrategic environment, the US, Russia, India and China are expanding their global influences in different regions of the world through reshuffling the alignment of countries.

Read more: China Installs Weapons in South China Sea, Satellites Show

President Trump’s supremacy may create some factors for hybrid warfare. Only US-China cooperation can reduce the possibilities of major misadventures of in Asia including South China Sea and war escalation. But the history witnesses that the US had never shared the power and it is unlikely in the future.

China has built military-capable facilities for the last many years. In the past, China has signaled Australia to physically stay out of the South China Sea dispute and not to provide increased use of military facilities to the U.S.

ASEAN and China in August begun talks to develop a code of conduct for the South China Sea, though a deal is unlikely before 2019, Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said in February. The issue of the South China Sea is set to dominate the unofficial agenda of a special three-day meeting of ASEAN countries and Australia, which starts on Friday.


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