Federal Politics

Julie Bishop gets frosty reception from China over Australia's stance on South China Sea

Beijing: Julie Bishop has arrived to a frosty reception in Beijing after being rapped over Australia's stance on the South China Sea ahead of a series of high-level meetings in the Chinese capital.

Risks to Australia's trade with Asia exaggerated?

Just how reliant is Australian shipping on using routes through the contested waters of the South China Sea?

Australia's foreign minister, who arrived in Beijing late on Tuesday night, had made clear during a preceding trip to Tokyo that she intended to push her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi for clarification on how China intended to use its man-made islands in the disputed waters, the product of an audaciously rapid land reclamation programme that has riled its neighbours.

The Philippines, a rival claimant, has challenged Beijing at an arbitration court in The Hague over China's territorial claims. Beijing has repeatedly said it will not recognise the case and defended its right to build on what it considers to be its sovereign territory.

China's Ministry for Foreign Affairs, led by Foreign Minister Wang Yi, had some stern words of advice for Julie Bishop ...
China's Ministry for Foreign Affairs, led by Foreign Minister Wang Yi, had some stern words of advice for Julie Bishop over how Australia handles China's territorial claim in the South China Sea. Photo: AP

China claims much of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, Ms Bishop said Australia took no sides on the competing territorial claims but awaited the outcome of the arbitration.

"We recognise the Philippines' right to seek to resolve the matter through arbitration, but we urge all claimants to settle their disputes peacefully without coercion, without intimidation," she said.

With Ms Bishop and Mr Wang set to sit down for an annual foreign and strategic dialogue on Wednesday, China's foreign ministry pre-emptively pushed back against her comments at a regular press briefing on Tuesday.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop gave her Chinese counterpart Minister Wang Yi a much warmer ...
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop gave her Chinese counterpart Minister Wang Yi a much warmer reception in Sydney in 2014. Photo: Getty images

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China would "never" accept the Philippines' "unilateral" initiation of international arbitration which it contends as a contravention of international law.

"Australia should not selectively evade that objective fact," Mr Hong said. "Australia should adopt an objective and unbiased attitude and refrain from doing anything that undermines regional peace and stability."

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop received met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Tuesday where they ...
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop received met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Tuesday where they discussed tension in the South China Sea and on the Korean peninsula. Photo: AP

In Tokyo, Ms Bishop spoke at length with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on how to rein in China's assertive stance on the South China Sea, while also agreeing China should do use its influence to curb North Korea's "provocative" behaviour following recent ballistic missile and nuclear tests.

Australia's deepening of security and strategic ties with Japan adds to an air of tension ahead of Ms Bishop's talks with Mr Wang which harks back to their now infamous encounter in 2013.

Australia should adopt an objective and unbiased attitude and refrain from doing anything that undermines regional peace and stability.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei

Angered by Australia's protests over what was then a newly-declared "air defence identification zone" over the disputed East China Sea, Mr Wang sidestepped diplomatic pleasantries in delivering a public dressing down of Ms Bishop in front of international and Chinese media. The spat was later described by a senior DFAT official as the "rudest" conduct he had seen in 30 years of public service.

But the diplomatic posturing was outweighed by economic gain, with the two countries setting aside their differences to agree a landmark bilateral free trade agreement the following year.

Bishop: Stability in South China Sea matters

Australia is not taking a position on competing claims to the South China Sea but stability in the area really matters to Australia says Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

As well as meeting with Mr Wang, Ms Bishop will meet with China's top climate change negotiator Xie Zhenhua and senior education officials on Wednesday, before paying a call on Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday.