A Liberal backbencher has urged Australia to use its navy to curtail China’s actions in the South China Sea with tensions high between the two nations.
Former international development minister, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has taken aim at Beijing for flouting a 2016 international tribunal ruling on resource exploration in other countries’ economic zones.
“Beijing has failed the test of being a good international citizen in the South China Sea and should be held to account,” she told parliament on Monday.
“We should be calling out Beijing and utilising our navy and working with other countries to exercise right of innocent passage through international waters. Appeasement should never be an option.”
Australia has expressed serious concern over developments in the South China Sea but stopped short of naming Beijing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged all parties to respect international law after a Chinese oil exploration ship and its coast guard escorts travelled to Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells said while Beijing’s assurances it had no plans to build a military base in the Pacific should be taken at face value, any change in that position would be of grave concern.
She said letting China access markets had not resulted in a more liberal society.
“The dream of freedom remains distant for the Chinese people,” she said.
“While Beijing still pays lip service to reform and opening, Deng Xiaoping’s famous policy now rings hollow. One only has to look at what’s happening in Hong Kong today.”
Senator Fierravanti-Wells also accused former foreign minister Julie Bishop and ex-defence minister Marise Payne of unfairly allowing her to be “hung out to dry” over criticising high levels of Pacific debt to China.
“My comments have been fully vindicated and debt trap diplomacy has now entered international parlance and lexicon,” she said.
“Every time this issue is raised it vindicates the stance I took.”
While praising the government’s increased focus on the Pacific, she also levelled criticism at her own side for the vast bulk of $3 billion in assistance for Pacific neighbours flowing in the form of loans.
“Saddling our neighbours with more debt is not in the long-term interests of the Pacific,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells said.
The former Pacific minister would have preferred the money to be used for grants, weather-proofing schools and hospitals and mobilising private sector investment in major infrastructure.