Officials said China’s activities on man-made islands in the disputed water way and the the “coercive use” of armed China Coast Guard vessels were giving cause for concern. But they said Australian vessels and aircraft would continue their operations in the region and support other nations which were doing the same.
Australian high commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell said all territorial disputes needed to be settled in accordance with international law and warned acts of coercion could lead to escalation.
His comments come in the wake of increased Chinese aggression in South China Sea in recent weeks, which included the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel, dangerous tailing of foreign warships and attempts to stop exploration activities in the exclusive economic zones of other Asian nations.
Some analysts believe the recent incidents in the South China Sea and a general increase in activity could be linked to fears in Beijing that business will move away from China to its neighbouring rival nations once the global coronavirus pandemic is over.
Mr O’Farrell said there were concerns over “actions to disrupt other countries resource exploitation activities and the dangerous and coercive use of coast guard vessels and so called maritime militias”.
He urged “all parties to take meaningful steps to ease tensions and build trust, including through dialogue”.
The Australian high commissioner also said binding legal judgments on claims in the region had to be observed and pledged Australia’s support for nations who exercised their rights under the international law for freedom of navigation and overflight.
Canberra and Beijing found themselves at loggerheads after clashing over Australia’s calls for an international investigation into the causes of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, China’s ambassador to Australia warned of a boycott by Chinese consumers if Australia pursued an investigation, prompting Australian ministers to accuse China of “economic coercion”.
China has strongly opposed an independent inquiry although appeared to change its hardline opposition to a probe yesterday.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman played-down Australia’s involvement in the resolution, attributing it solely to Brussels.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian and said China was consulted on the content of the draft but stopped short of saying it had Beijing’s support.
He said: “China, along with other countries, took an active part in these consultations and agreed on the unifying of the text.”