THE HON MICHAEL DANBY MP
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION,
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR MELBOURNE PORTS
Tonight I would like to address the worsening situation in the South China Sea, an issue that I have been interested in for many months, if not a couple of years. I particularly want to look at China’s efforts to construct artificial islands in an area that seemed to be being used to better project its military capabilities.
Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (21:19): Tonight I would like to address the worsening situation in the South China Sea, an issue that I have been interested in for many months, if not a couple of years. I particularly want to look at China’s efforts to construct artificial islands in an area that seemed to be being used to better project its military capabilities. At the recent Shangri-La conference, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter concretised these activities by saying that China had filled in 2000 acres, or 810 hectares, in the South China Sea in the last 18 months. I must say that I agreed with Defence Minister Andrews on the other side of the House when he pointed out at that dialogue:
He did not mention any country by name, but everyone in the room knew to whom he was referring.
Minister Andrews spoke just a few days after Australia’s formidable Permanent Secretary of the Defence Department, Dennis Richardson, who made similar comments here in Australia, in Sydney. He said:
It is not constructive to give the appearance of seeking to change facts on the ground without any clarification of actual claims… The speed and scale of China’s land reclamation on disputed reefs does raise the question of intent and purpose.
He went on to say:
It is legitimate to ask the purpose of the land reclamation—
and, somewhat ironically, he said—in case some of our friends in the People’s Republic do not understand it, this is irony—
tourism appears unlikely.
It is important for Australia, for the world, and indeed for China, that our economic interests be considered in this area of the world. Fully half of the world’s oil tanker shipments pass through the South China Sea and about 60 per cent of Australia’s trade.
The dramatic expansion of artificial islands
No-one wants conflict in these waters, but we cannot turn a blind eye to any country that unilaterally claims areas for military, nationalist or other reasons
Other figures relevant to understanding the dimension of the challenge posed by China’s island building are that 50 per cent of international maritime trade takes place through the South China Sea, freely going backwards and forwards between Korea, Japan, India, Australia, Europe, and the United States. That amounts in dollar terms last year to US$5.3 trillion. The Economist argues that under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, countries can claim the sea out to 12 nautical miles and a further 200 miles of exclusive economic zone off the coast of their mainland or inhabited islands. Uninhabitable rocks get territorial waters but not EEZs. America has sailed clear of those 12-mile economic zones, and I think it is wise at the moment to do that. But it does not mean any recognition of this so-called nine-dashed line that China has established in the South China Sea.
Just to show you the cheek of it, this nine-dashed line where China claims sovereignty, goes like a cow’s tongue—an agricultural term I am sure you are familiar with, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott—from Taiwan down the edge of the coast of the Philippines, down the coast of Brunei, right down the coast of Malaysia and back along the coast of Vietnam—right to their territorial waters. There is no international zone or EEZ for those countries, according to China. Some of the waters and inhabited islands that China is claiming lie 1400 kilometres south of mainland China and well within 200 nautical miles of many countries.
The white paper on China’s military strategy said it would fight back if attacked
Australia has for many years maintained a careful middle line. We do not take a position on territorial disputes; we prefer them to be solved by international negotiations. But in recent weeks these kinds of issues are forcing our hand. I do not appreciate—and I am sure you do not, Mr Deputy Speaker—threats by China to take their trade to Brazil. It is a lot further for them, a lot more expensive.
People’s Liberation Army spokesman Yang Yujun holds a copy of the annual white paper during a news conference in Beijing
So far China has been very wise. It is a rising country. All of us can appreciate that. But it needs to keep to its peaceful intent. The economic prosperity of China has been manifest over these recent years. I urge the people in the leadership of the Chinese regime to focus on that. There is an English expression which they should understand: the goose that lays the golden egg. And the goose that lays the golden egg is free international trade, free transit through international waters like the South China Sea. China is prospering economically. Why would you jeopardise that?