Defence Minister Christopher Pyne has called on Beijing to act responsibly in the South China Sea and avoid mimicking Russia’s “might is right” approach to diplomacy.
But he urged Beijing to rethink its approach to the politically-charged waters of the South China Sea, arguing the world power was eroding regional confidence and increasing anxiety, including with activities like building artificial islands in disputed waters.
“Resolving disputes in the South China Sea in accordance with international law would build confidence in China’s willingness to support and champion a strategic culture that respects the rights of all states,” Mr Pyne said.
“As the exhortation goes, to those that much is given, much is expected; similarly for nation states, for those with great power comes great responsibility, and so I call on China to act with great responsibility in the South China Sea.”
The Minister pledged Australian support for multilateral activities in the South China Sea, if required, to remind Beijing they are international waters.
See how China is converting reefs to military facilities by building artificial islands in the South China Sea.
China is pitted against smaller neighbours in those waters that it claims almost in entirety.
While Australia is “not interested in containing China,” it wants Indo-Pacific countries to not have to make “choices between economic gain and sovereignty,” Mr Pyne said.
Mr Pyne described ongoing tensions between the United States and China as “the defining great power rivalry of our times”.
However, he shrugged off suggestions of a potential cold war between the duelling world heavyweights.
“It’s a simplistic and unsophisticated characterisation of what is a much more complex and dynamic geo-strategic paradigm,” Mr Pyne said.
“Any division of the region into Cold War-like blocs is doomed to failure since it would necessitate false choices between prosperity and security.”
While he did not directly name Russia, the Minister took a thinly-veiled swipe at its annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and referred to Vladimir Putin’s Government as an oligarchy threatening the rule of law.
“It is under threat from oligarchies who think it is their birthright to simply annexe their neighbour at will,” Mr Pyne said.
“It is under threat from countries who treat all of cyberspace like their own personal fiefdom, to do with as they will; to take what is not rightfully theirs.”