Malcolm Turnbull has pledged Australia’s absolute support for the United States in its campaign against China’s incursions in the South China Sea which are posing threats to freedom of navigation.
Following a meeting between Mr Turnbull and US President Barack Obama in Manila, where they are attending the APEC summit, both men made it clear that respect for the rule of law and peaceful resolutions to disputes were vital to regional stability.
“It’s very important for us to uphold the basic principle that these issues should be resolved by international norms, the rule of law and be peacefully settled,” Mr Obama said.
Mr Turnbull replied: “We are very much of the same mind.”
“We are committed to the rule of law, to ensuring that big changes in this region occur in a peaceful manner and in accordance to international law. That’s absolutely vital to security in our region,” he said.
In their public comments, neither leader canvassed the prospect of an Australian warship joining the US if it choses to send a warship close to one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, as it did last month. On October 27, destroyer USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands.
This was viewed by Beijing as a potential challenge to its territorial claims in the contested waters, which are not recognised by Australia, the US or other regional nations. The Chinese are building artificial islands in a strategy designed to extend their sovereign territory in the seaway through which 60 per cent of Australia’s exports are shipped.
As well as the response to the terror attack in Paris, Chinese belligerence in the region is expected to be a dominant topic on the sidelines of APEC on Wednesday and Thursday.