Turnbull speaks truth to Beijing on South China Sea


Australian leader warns that coercion risks provoking Asia-wide resistance

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull highlighted the dilemmas facing so-called “middle power” countries in his most significant address on regional affairs at the Shangri- La Dialogue meeting in Singapore of top defense officials.

Some of what Turnbull said in his June 2 speech was familiar: the U.S. is the indispensable power in the region; Canberra will continue to forge security relationships with other countries; perceptions that middle powers must choose between the U.S. and China are a poor reflection of reality.

Less expected, however, were Turnbull’s blunt comments about Chinese behavior, particularly in the South China Sea. During Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Australia in March, the prime minister assiduously avoided any mention of China’s consolidation of control over the artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea in defiance of a July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.