China Chides Australia's Bishop Ahead of Talks in Beijing

  • Foreign minister seeks balancing act during East Asia visit
  • Bishop: Philippines has arbitration right in territorial spat

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will hold talks with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Wednesday, a day after his government chastised her for comments made in Japan on territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Julie Bishop.
Julie Bishop.
Photographer: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Australia “should adopt an objective and unbiased attitude and refrain from doing anything that undermines regional peace and stability," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, after Bishop said the Philippines had a right to seek to resolve its territorial disputes with China through international arbitration.

The spat underlines the precarious road Bishop needs to walk during her five-day visit to East Asia, with her nation seeking not to offend China, its largest trading partner, while reinforcing ties with Japan, with which it shares a mutual ally in the U.S. Tensions in the South China Sea are rising amid signs China is militarizing artificial islands its built in the busy shipping and fishing area that’s also claimed by countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam.

“We recognize 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," Bishop said in Tokyo on Tuesday. She also said she intended to use her meeting with Wang to ask him about China’s intended use of the artificial islands.

China has over the past two years built 3,000 acres of land in the Spratly island chain including a runway and other facilities that could be used for military purposes. The nation claims more than 80 percent of the South China Sea, which hosts $5 trillion in global trade a year.

An international arbitration court is due to hand down a ruling later this year on the Philippines’ challenge to China’s claims. China will never accept the arbitration because it would contravene international law, Hong told Tuesday’s briefing.

“We will deploy necessary national defense facilities on the islands,” Hong said. “It is an exercise of self-preservation and defense, a right granted by international law to sovereign states. It does not impede freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea that all countries are entitled to under international law.”

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