Australian Position on South China Sea after PCA rulingsThe South China Sea, located at the heart of East Asia, has long been considered a region with significant risk of a conflict outbreak, since claims on it by seven countries overlap: PR China, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. Its route encompasses a total of $5.3 trillion worth of trade. The sea basin contains approximately 11 billion barrels worth of oil and 190 cubic trillions of natural gas reserves.Though the dispute somewhat hibernated in the 1990s, it re-emerged with the growing Chinese power. The strategic shift in China’s policy towards the SCS stemmed from Beijing’s stance to consolidate its jurisdictional claims by increasing its naval reach and coercive diplomacy.


The Philippines has made a case against China on the SCS dispute at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The PCA’s judgement says "A unanimous Award has been issued today by the Tribunal constituted under Annex VII to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the "Convention”) in the arbitration instituted by the Republic of the Philippines against the People’s Republic of China”. Thus, the Court rejected China’s claim over the South China Sea, but Beijing does not recognize its jurisdiction. The Court also rejected the notion of having the access to sea resources while entering into the exclusive economic zones of other states.


The PCA rulings have provided legal grounds to Australia, asserting its right to freely navigate over the skies and waters of the South China Sea. It is in the best interest of Canberra to support the PCA rulings and international norms. A state-run Chinese newspaper threatened military action against Canberra in the sea. It also dubbed Australia a "delirious” country with an "inglorious history”. Similarly, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister said, "We hope other countries won’t turn the South China Sea into an Origin of War”.


Canberra also takes the clear stance of opposing China’s claims in South China Sea. Speaking to a current affairs program AM ABC news on July 13, 2016 Australia`s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop urged all parties to take permanent steps to avoid tensions and escalation. But at the same time she also condemned China’s claims in the SCS very clearly. In fact, Australia is largely dependent on its maritime trade routes through the South China Sea, and Chinese territorial claims may affect Canberra’s economic & geo-political interests. But at the same time, Australia is engaged in intensive trade with China worth $150 billion a year, which defines the interconnectedness of the economic fortunes of both states.


David C Gompert, a former U.S. top intelligence advisor to President Barack Obama,foretold that Australia can play a vital role if a war breaks out between the U.S. and China. The evidence highlights Australia’s strategic importance, which can produce both stabilizing and destabilizing impacts. Joining either a U.S. or Chinese bloc will bring both hopes and fears, but staying neutral may be in the superlative Australia’s national interest.


Similarly, if the tensions within this triangle continue for long, they may bring about an unsolicited war to Australia, which is neither in the interest of country nor the wider region. Canberra should not participate in a war if it ever happens. The rise of China is creating opportunities for the Asian States to have U.S. blessings, but at the same time it is forging U.S. to set internal and external balancing which may change strategic stability, balance of power along with the emergence of new alliance partners and a military build-up.


On the other hand, China is looking for new economic partners in order to isolate the United States in the particular region.The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and "One Road, One Belt” initiative are the new moves to secure China’s military, diplomatic, economic, energy, strategic and geopolitical interests.The completion of aforementioned projects will contribute to the emergence of a new economic world order, which may be useful for Canberra in terms of investments and business.


In the recent past the Chinese officials met the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. "The Taliban made many such visits to China for meetings with the Chinese top brass. At the end of 2014, the group sent a secret delegation to Beijing in order to meet several senior officials. In May 2015, China organized a meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Urumqi, the capital of restive Xinjiang province in Western China”. The evidence suggests that China is engaging with different non-state actors, as it purports to be able to play them against its foes. If Australia continues to oppose china, it may be the case where China can use its non-state actor card against it. Therefore, Canberra should tighten its border, internal and external security in order to counter any possible futuristic security threat.


At last, the most significant point is that Canberra should continue cordial relations with United States but at the same time it should also continue trade, investment and diplomatic engagements with China. Australia and China has more than $150 billion trade per year. Similarly, both countries had signed ChAFTA China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, Andrew Robe Australian Trade Minister said, "This historic agreement with our biggest trading partner will support future economic growth, job creation and higher living standards through increased goods and services trade, and investment. China, with its population of 1.4 billion people and rapidly rising middle class, presents enormous opportunities for Australian businesses well into the future”. Therefore, Canberra should avoid joining either U.S. or China block. The binary way of leading Australia’s foreign relations does not suit its superlative national interest.


Share this post