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Australia, ASEAN leaders condemn South China Sea skirmish

by Adrian David

MELBOURNE, 9 MARCH – Australian and Asean leaders condemned China’s ‘flexing of the muscles’ against Philippine vessels in the disputed Spratlys archipelago in the South China Sea, last Tuesday.

Calling the incident as an ‘unsafe and destabilising behaviour’, the leaders expressed grave concern over the skirmish involving coast guards of both Asian countries.

The leaders warned that such actions in contested waters could boil over and endangered peace in the South China Sea, where several littoral states laid claim to territories within their 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

They urged for disputed to be resolved through dialogue rather than confrontations, referring to the standoff between Chinese and Filipino vessels near the Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin) that reportedly left the latter’s supply ship Unaizah Mae 4 – supervised by Vice-Admiral Alberto Carlos – and four of his crew injured after being water-cannoned.

“We encourage all countries to avoid any unilateral actions that endanger peace, security and stability in the region.

“We recognise the benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability and prosperity,” said the joint statement at the close of the ‘Asean-Australia Special Summit 2024’ in Victoria that was hosted by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

The latest incident happened just a day after Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo told Beijing to “stop harassing us” at the start of the summit last Monday.

In the incident, Chinese coast guard vessels were seen on social media video of harassing a flotilla of Philippine ships, that included the Philippine coast guard ship BRP Sindangan, undertaking a resupply mission for their troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting World War II-era navy ship that the Philippines grounded on the shoal to serve as its outpost in the disputed waters.

Chinese and Philippines officials traded blame for the incident.

In recent years, Philippine security officials accused China of deliberately blocking the former’s vessels by dangerous manoeuvres using water cannons and military-grade lasers that temporarily blinded Filipino crewmen in a series of high-seas hostilities in the South China Sea.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims in the oil, gas and carbon resource-rich and busy waterway, where a bulk of the world’s commerce shipping transits.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea through its nine-dash line.

China has reportedly turned barren reefs into seven islands that now serve as missile-protected military bases, complete with runways, that have bolstered its capability to fortify its territorial claims and patrols.

Albanese, who co-chaired the summit with Laos Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone, said Tuesday’s clash was concerning for Australia.

“It is dangerous and it creates risks of miscalculation, which can then lead to escalation.

“Compromises have to made so that Asean leaders at the summit can agree on.

“There is a general recognition that we need to make sure that activity in the South China Sea alleviates any tension and doesn’t add to it,” Albanese said.

Last September at the Asean Summit in Indonesia, leaders agreed to accelerate a negotiation process with China with a goal of finalising a South China Sea code of conduct – to prevent risky and provocative behaviour – within three years.

That summit was joined by United States Vice-President Kamala Harris, Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Meanwhile, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that finalising such a code would take some time with related difficult issues, yet to be resolved.

Lee added that a draft of the code had been written but negotiations were still on-going.

“The issues are not easy to resolve and, really, negotiating a code of conduct inevitably raises issues of what the ultimate outcomes are going to be.

“Therefore, the ultimate answers are difficult and negotiating the code will take quite some time,” said Lee.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr commented that the dispute’s legal status was made clear by his country’s success over China in a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in The Hague, Netherlands, that invalidated Beijing’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea.

China, however, has disputed the ruling.

“It is unfortunate that despite the clarity provided by international law, provocative, unilateral and illegal actions continue to infringe upon our sovereignty, our sovereign rights and jurisdictions,” Marcos Jr said. – airtimes.my

#AirTimes #Semasa #ASEAN #SouthChinaSea

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