Abbott takes swipe at China’s activities

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has revealed an increase in air and naval patrols in the disputed South China Sea, and taken a swipe at Beijing for not sharing the same “values” as Australia.

The South China Sea region is contested by a number of nations, including China, which has built artificial islands and is increasing its military build-up in the area.

Speaking in Japan’s capital Tokyo, Mr Abbott said China’s activities were threatening the stability and security of the region.

“Over the past 18 months, Australia has quietly increased our own air and naval patrols in the South China Sea,” he said.

“We should be prepared to exercise our rights to freedom of navigation wherever international law permits because this is not something that the United States should have to police on its own.

“Australia does not take sides in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere. But we do insist that they be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law.

“Countries which turn reefs into artificial islands at massive environmental cost, fortify disputed territory and try to restrict freedom of navigation are putting at risk the stability and security on which depends the prosperity of our region and the wider world.

“China should use its strength to guarantee freedom of navigation, not to challenge it.”

He said no country had more rights than others.

“We deplore all unilateral alterations to the status quo; and we expect to exercise freedom of navigation in accordance with the well-understood rules,” he said.

It is a view shared by Australia’s most recent ambassador to Washington, Kim Beazley, who spoke to the ABC’s 7.30 program.

Asked whether Australia had conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea recently, Mr Beazley said: “Not to my knowledge and I shouldn’t have answered the question in that way.”

“I should have said ‘Go and talk to the Foreign Minister’.”

Mr Beazley also said maritime operations should be carried out routinely in the South China Sea.

“The Chinese react worse when their noses are being rubbed in it, when things are routine, they tend to live with it,” he said.

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