Australia urged China not to create a proprietary air zone over the disputed South China Sea, with defusing tensions in the waters a priority, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.
“The Asean countries have been discussing this and I believe they’ve made their position quite plain that they would be deeply concerned if there was any attempt to impose an air defense identification zone over the South China Sea,” Bishop said in an interview in Canberra on Monday, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
China, which is creating artificial islands in the busy shipping and fishing area that’s also claimed by countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, said again this month it reserves the right to establish an ADIZ. It sparked a rebuke from Australia, Japan and the U.S. when it set up a similar zone in late 2013 over disputed islands in the adjacent East China Sea.
The Philippines said its patrol planes have been warned recently by China to stop flying over the Spratly island area. Bishop said she had spoken to senior leaders in China and urged them to avoid actions that raise tensions.
“Our important trade routes are through the Indian Ocean and through to the north, so we’re very keen than countries settle any disputes peacefully, that there’s no unilateral action and we express our views publicly and privately with the countries involved,” she said.
Satellite photos show dredgers reclaiming land in seven areas, which according to IHS Jane’s includes the construction of an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef large enough to host People’s Liberation Army planes.
Australia, an ally of the U.S. and supporter of its strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific area, hosts as many as 2,500 American Marines in its northern city of Darwin. While China is Australia’s largest trading partner, Bishop instructed the nation’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in November 2013 to call in China’s ambassador to convey her concerns over the creation of the East China Sea air zone.
A new U.S. report on the South China Sea building work is “hyping up” the military threat posed by China and undermines bilateral ties, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.
China’s facilities in the waters could include harbors, surveillance systems and at least one airfield, the Pentagon said in an annual report on China’s military strategy. Two thousand acres of land have been reclaimed, up from 500 at the end of December, a U.S. defense official said.
“The U.S. report makes willful speculations and comments on China’s military growth in defiance of the facts,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement on the ministry’s website.
Bishop, 58, said Australia did not take sides in territorial disputes. “What we do plead with countries is to negotiate peacefully any territorial or maritime claims that they have,” she said.
Bishop is regarded as one of the best performers in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition government, which won power in September 2013. A former commercial lawyer, her international profile increased during Australia’s temporary seat on the UN Security Council, which expired in December.
Bishop said the greatest threat to Australia’s security is the rise of Islamic State, which she described as having the most “poisonous, barbaric ideology” the world had seen since World War II. At least 110 Australians have traveled to join the group in Iraq and Syria, with Australia deploying military personnel and aircraft to the Middle East to join President Barack Obama’s coalition against Islamic State.
“It is global, it is very complex, it’s very dangerous, and we’re taking it exceedingly seriously in providing resources and more support to our security and law enforcement and intelligence agencies so that we can starve this barbaric terrorist organization of fighters and funds,” Bishop said.