Chinese delegates cut South China Sea references from resolution



Chinese delegates at an international summit in Canberra have successfully removed references to the disputed South China Sea in a resolution promoting freedom of navigation in the region.

The wording was this week watered down in negotiations at Parliament House, where more than 300 representatives from about 30 countries gathered for the 28th Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum.

A draft resolution, proposed by Japan, reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation of the South China Sea – including shipping and the airspace.

The document also recognised the benefits of “a sea of peace, stability and prosperity” and expressed concerns about “land reclamations, activities and serious incidents in the South China Sea, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security stability in the region”.

All references to the South China Sea were removed from the final version of the resolution after China raised concerns in negotiations over the document.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute defence program director Michael Shoebridge said the removal of the text was “disturbing” because it was important to speak up about China’s militarisation and land reclamations of the South China Sea.

ASIO has issued a rare public statement to confirm it is investigating claims China tried to infiltrate Australian parliament.

“The gathering of some 350 parliamentarians from across the Asia Pacific at this parliamentary forum should be an opportunity for this international gathering to stand up for international law and oppose those who, through their acts, endanger it and regional security,” he said.

“The fact the forum seems instead to have self-censored is disturbing, but it also shows that [President] Xi Jinping’s China is seeking to silence all critical voices in our region who push back against his aggressive use of Chinese power.

“Disagreement and demonstration of difference between delegates would be far preferable to silence about China’s aggression in the South China Sea.”

Mr Shoebridge said “silence and acquiescence” was dangerous because it allowed the Chinese Communist Party’s use of power to grow by being uncontested.

“And the people of Hong Kong are showing us what living under the power of Xi’s CCP is like.”

Countries including Japan, Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam have all previously taken issue with Beijing’s growing militarisation of islands in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, which is an important trade route for many countries and and contains large quantities of oil and natural gas.

In 2016, an international tribunal, established under the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea, ruled against China in a disagreement with the Philippines, but Beijing has largely ignored the ruling over the disputed sea.

Last month, Jakarta protested to Beijing over the presence of a Chinese coastguard vessel in its territorial waters.

The Chinese delegation to the Canberra summit was led by Ding Zhongli, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress.

Climate change was also a significant issue at this week’s gathering, with Pacific nations calling on Australia to take more leadership and protect its neighbours who will be most affected by the impacts.