Why the US and Australia are worried about China's 'maritime empire' in the South China Sea

Why the US and Australia are worried about China's 'maritime ...

With the global coronavirus response and China's influence in the South China Sea high on the agenda, Australia is about to kick-off a series of high level discussions with US counterparts. 

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds have travelled to Washington DC for the Australia-US Ministerial Consultations, otherwise known as AUSMIN. 

With so much on the table, this round of talks is being considered one of the most significant AUSMIN meetings in decades. 

So, what is the AUSMIN forum, and just how much is at stake?

Tensions in the South China Sea

The Australia-US Ministerial Consultations is one of the main forums for bilateral talks between the two allies, led by each country’s Foreign and Defence Ministers.

It’s conducted annually and alternates between the US and Australia. Due to COVID-19, the talks this year were meant to be held virtually, but it’s understood Australia pushed to go ahead with in-person talks.

Australia will also discuss the effort to counter the spread of disinformation from authoritarian states in the wake of COVID.

Thank you for the warm welcome @SecPompeo as we navigate significant strategic challenges as well as the health & economic crises of COVID-19. Looking forward to a productive #AUSMIN2020 - our shared values of freedom & democracy are the bedrock of our alliance #mateship
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Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds have travelled to Washington DC to meet with their counterparts, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper.

The global response to the pandemic will be high on the agenda, but the US Ambassador to Australia, Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr, has pointed to another pressing issue - China’s activity in the South China Sea.

Both the US and Australia have ramped-up their rhetoric against China in recent days.  

In a note lodged to the United Nations last week, Australia formally declared “there’s no legal basis” to China’s maritime claims in the disputed South China Sea.

“Australia rejects China’s claim to ‘historic rights’ or ‘maritime rights and interests’ as established in the ‘long course of historical practice’ in the South China Sea,” the letter read.

“There is no legal basis for China to draw straight baselines connecting the outermost points of maritime features or ‘island groups’ in the South China Sea, including around the ‘Four Sha’ or ‘continental’ or ‘outlying’ archipelagos.”

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Director of the Lowy Institute’s Asian Power and Diplomacy Program, Hervé Lemahieu, said Australia has made the move knowing there will be diplomatic ramifications.

“Australia feels that it really needs to nail its principles to the mast here and is willing clearly to put up with whatever consequences may follow from Beijing,” Mr Lemahieu said.

“This is a step up by Australia to get involved in the diplomatic fray around the South China Sea, but also to remain consistent with international legal precedents and understanding of how the law of the seas should be managed.”

South China Sea | What's going on in the South China Sea and will ...

The South China Sea has been disputed for decades with the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei all having overlapping territorial claims in the region.  

“The South China Sea is strategically very sensitive area because it's an area where something like a third the world's global trade passes through on an annual basis,” Mr Lemahieu said.

“It's not just a clear case of China against the others but the others against each other as well, so that that's been long standing.”

Though, China has asserted its claim of sovereignty recent years by building artificial islands and military bases in the waterway.

“Over the course of the last decade, what we've seen is China as its military spending has ballooned as its capabilities, particularly in terms of its navy has expanded, has played a far more assertive role in the South China Sea and trying to change the facts on the ground,” Mr Lemahieu said.


Why the US and Australia are worried about China's 'maritime empire' in the South China Sea Why the US and Australia are worried about China's 'maritime empire' in the South China Sea Reviewed by Anson Moore on July 28, 2020 Rating: 5

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