- Australia 'deplores' unilateral action in South China Sea
- Strong indication Australia will join push back
Kuala Lumpur: Foreign minister Julie Bishop says she will raise concerns about rising tensions in the flashpoint waters of the South China Sea at annual diplomatic talks in Malaysia, despite objections from China.
"I will focus on urgent political and national security challenges facing our region, including countering violent extremism and addressing maritime issues," Ms Bishop said ahead of meetings of the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their key trading partners, adding she will "register" Australia's concern over the South China Sea.
Earlier China's foreign minister Wang Yi insisted that China's controversial building of what US military chiefs say are military posts on tiny reefs in disputed waters of the South China Sea should not be raised at the talks.
Mr Wang warned that bringing up the issue was "counter-productive" and would "heighten confrontation".
However the US and the Philippines have said they also intend to defy China's objections and call for an end to island-building, military deployments and other aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
Australia has maintained it does not take sides in the conflict that flared last year when China began expanding artificial islands in disputed waters. But the conflict is a security priority for Australia which sends almost 60 per cent of its trade through the region.
As the meetings began in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Wang bluntly reiterated China's stand that disputes must be handled on a bilateral basis with rival claimants the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. "China has never believed that multinational fora are the appropriate place for discussing specific bilateral disputes," he said.
Carlyle Thayer, an expert on the South China Sea from the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said concern in ASEAN about China's construction of the islands has become more palpable and some nations are increasingly frustrated by the slow progress towards agreement on a set of rules to help ease tensions.
Ms Bishop is scheduled to meet Mr Wang in Kuala Lumpur where she said she also intends to push for ways to prosecute those responsible for bringing down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
She is also scheduled to meet her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi for the first time since Australia withdrew its ambassador in Jakarta in protest at the death by firing squad of rehabilitated drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in April.
Lindsay Murdoch is a three-time winner of the Walkley Award, Australia's top award for journalistic excellence. Lindsay is a former correspondent based in Singapore, Jakarta and Darwin. In 1999 he covered the tumultuous events in East Timor, and in 2003 he covered the Iraq war while embedded with US Marines.
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