‘To those that much is given, much is expected’: Pyne asks China to obey rules


Defence Minister Christopher Pyne says China’s militarisation of the South China Sea has increased anxiety and suspicion about the rising power’s intentions in the region.

Australia is open to conducting drills with other militaries in the disputed territory to send a message that it is international waters, he will say in a keynote address to a security forum in Singapore on Monday.

Fresh from a visit to China where Australian citizen Yang Hengjun has been mysteriously detained by secret police, Mr Pyne will also warn against a descent into an adversarial “Cold War-like blocs” that could harm economies and security.

Mr Pyne will tell the International Institute for Strategic Studies meeting that China has benefited immensely from integration with the global economic system and say there is no interest in, or benefit from, stifling the success of the communist nation.

“We are not interested in containing China, but we are interested in engaging and encouraging China to exercise its power in ways that increase regional trust and confidence,” he will say.

“The building and militarisation of artificial features in the South China Sea, for instance, has not increased regional confidence in China’s strategic intentions. Instead, it has increased anxiety.”

By contrast, he will say, resolving disputes in accordance with international law would build confidence in China’s willingness to be a regional strategic player that respects the rights of other states.

“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,” Mr Pyne will say.

Pointing to China’s actions as a threat to the rule of law, he will warn: “We are open to conducting multilateral activities in the South China Sea to demonstrate that they are international waters.”

While Australian warships and aircraft have travelled through the area and conducted joint exercises, the government has not sent a ship within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s man-made and militarised islands. The government has shown a willingness to conduct joint military exercises in the waters.

As relations between the United States and China have collapsed, especially around trade, some analysts have warned of a “new Cold War” between the two powers. Mr Pyne will reject the description, noting the West and Soviet blocs were nowhere near as economically integrated and mutually dependent as China and the US are today.

“It’s a simplistic and unsophisticated characterisation of what is a much more complex and dynamic geostrategic paradigm.”