Australia: South China Sea code should not prejudice third parties


MANILA, Philippines — As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China continue negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, Australia urged all parties to ensure that the output would be consistent with international law.

Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely pointed out that developments in the disputed South China Sea matter to their country as they are also a member of the Indo-Pacific region.

Gorely also relayed Australia’s belief that the COC may help manage disputes and decrease tensions in the region.

“The Code of Conduct should reinforce existing regional architecture and ASEAN’s centrality, and it should strengthen parties’ commitments to cease actions that would complicate or escalate disputes, particularly militarization,” she said.

Acknowledging that developing the code would not be easy, the Australian envoy emphasized the need for ensuring the integrity of a rules-based international system based on sovereign states.

Without mentioning China, Gorely said rules imposed using force and coercion lack legitimacy.

Beijing has been suggesting to exclude non-regional countries, including the United States, in proposed military exercises and energy exploration with Southeast Asian nations. Analysts see this move as an attempt to diminish US influence.

Echoing Washington’s position that concerns of third parties should also be incorporated in COC, Gorely said negotiating “without prejudicing the interests and rights of non-signatories could make a positive contribution.”

Goreyly reiterated Australia’s call for all South China Sea claimants to clarify their claims in accordance with international law and avoid pursuing unilateral action that destabilizes the region and increases militarization.

The current situation in the South China Sea represents a serious challenge to a rules-based order in the region, according to the Australian envoy.

“Maritime cooperation is important for our region, including in managing tensions in the South China Sea, where we see challenges to the global rules-based order,” she said.

Australia, an ally of the United States, has been vocal on its concerns over China’s expanding militarization in the South China Sea.

The country has stepped up its naval presence in the South China Sea without joining freedom of navigation operations of the US.