Rules, Balance, and Lifelines: An Australian Perspective on the South China Sea

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    A superficial reading of the South China Sea issue, informed by Beijing's propaganda line that the disputes amount simply to bilateral differences over principally Chinese maritime territory, would suggest that it is none of Australia's business. In reality, Australia has substantial stakes in what happens in these waters, where assertiveness and the manufacture of militarized islands have raised concerns about coercion and conflict. As a major trading nation, the world's thirteenth-largest economy, a regional maritime player in the Indo-Pacific, a middle power that benefits from the protection of norms and international law, a partner to its Asian neighbors, and an ally of the United States, Australia has myriad reasons to engage on this important strategic challenge. Historically, it has enacted and gained from freedom of navigation and commerce through this sea and air route. It also has a good record of multilateral diplomacy to reduce regional dangers. Reports of the Royal Australian Air Force quietly exercising freedom of navigation in late 2015 suggest that Canberra will continue to assert its rights and encourage a rules-based international response to tensions. [1] There remains some uncertainty, however, about how far Australia is prepared to go, including in the context of its weighty economic relationship with China. This essay provides an overview of Australian views on the South China Sea and discusses a range of options available for Australia to protect its interests in this important region
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)6-13
    JournalAsia Policy
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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