Australia and Japan agreed a defence pact over the disputed waters, admitting it had “serious concerns about China’s strategic moves”. This will see the two nations team up to carry out military manoeuvres while operating in what’s been described as the world’s most expensive stretch of sea. But the row deepened after Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded there be “stability and prosperity” for all nations looking to work in the South China Sea, while raising concerns over Beijing’s handling of Hong Kong, claiming it should be a “region free from coercion”.
Jonathan Kearsley, political commentator for 9 News Australia, said the reason behind the Japan-Australia pact was over China’s growing influence in the contested waters, as well as the East China Sea.
He explained: “An agreement to reach an agreement was signed when the two leaders met face-to-face in Tokyo.
“Much of their joint statement after these meetings centred around the strategic effect China imposes in the region through its militarisation of the South China Sea.
“Both leaders also raised concerns over the future of Hong Kong and called for a region free from coercion. The Prime Minister of Australia described the meeting as ‘pivotal’.”
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Following the meeting, Mr Morrison – alongside his Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga – delivered his verdict on the pact, leading China to issue its own disappointment in Australia.
Mr Kearlsey claimed an official within China said that Australia had “blatantly violated the norms of national relations by speaking out” on issues such as Hong Kong and supposed human rights abuses.
Hong Kong has become a divisive issue as many have been critical of China’s “concerted campaign to silence critical voices” who oppose the rights of people living in Hong Kong.
Among them was Mr Suga, who described the activity in the region as “running counter to the rule of law and openness”, adding that there was “grave concern” over Hong Kong following China’s national security rulings in the state.
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The ongoing row between Australia and China was summed up by Australian Strategic Policy Institute representative Peter Jennings, who said Beijing had applied a strategy similar to that of “shut up and take the money”.
He added: “They don’t want Australia to be expressing views about what we think is important in regional security. No Australian government can live with that.
“I don’t think democracy can live with that.”
According to Mr Kearsley, one official in Beijing claimed that if “Australia doesn’t care about China, then China won’t care about Australia at all”.
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The dispute is centred around the waters, which are the richest in the world.
China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea.
Others arguing their rights to the waters include Brunei, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Mr Morrison and Mr Suga agreed their plot after the East Asia Summit, which was attended by nations such as the US, China and South Korea, with 18 members making up the group.
South China Sea region
The US, however, was attacked by China over its hiring of private civilian aircraft which has been used to monitor Beijing’s maritime operations.
South China Sea Probing Initiative (SSCBI), a China-leaning think tank, argued that 150 patrols had been carried out in this secret manner by the US since March.
A report published by the group added: “Compared with the air reconnaissance capabilities of the US Navy and Air Force, the reconnaissance aircraft of private defence companies have greater flexibility in dealing with ‘grey area’ issues, reducing the diplomatic pressure caused by direct military confrontation.
“This also signals that the US will step up its presence in the Indo-Pacific region through a collaboration between the military, coastguard and private security sector.”
South China Sea: The water is claimed by numerous nations
Tensions continued to grow this week after a source close to the Chinese military claimed that it had successfully struck a move ship, despite originally claiming several of its anti-ship ballistic missiles had fallen into the sea.
According to the South China Morning Post, it was initially reported that in August the missiles travelled “thousands of kilometres before splashing down” somewhere between the Paracel Islands and Hainan Island.
But former senior Chinese officer, Wang Xiangsui, claimed that it had actually hit a moving ship, as opposed to what was originally reported, sparking further tensions with the US – who claimed the missile was a “carrier killer”.