New Delhi, September 2: Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews on Wednesday opposed the militarisation of the South Chi Sea, saying his country has a legitimate interest in the maintence of peace and stability, respect for intertiol law, unimpeded trade and freedom of vigation and overflight in those waters. He said Australia was ready to hold exercises with more than one tion, years after it took a step back following Chi’s discomfort over a val exercise involving five countries. “Australia strongly opposes the use of intimidation, aggression or coercion to advance any country’s claims or to unilaterally alter the status quo. We are particularly concerned about the possible militarisation of features in the South Chi Sea,” said Andrews, who is on a three-day tour to India. The minister, giving a lecture at IDSA here, said the South Chi Sea has attracted “lot of intertiol attention” recently.
“Australia has a legitimate interest in the maintence of peace and stability, respect for intertiol law, unimpeded trade and freedom of vigation and overflight in the South Chi Sea,” he said. “Australia has not taken sides on competing territorial claims in the South Chi Sea, but we are concerned about the large-scale land reclamation and construction activity by Chi and other claimants that raises tensions in the region. “It is important to recognise that all states have a right under intertiol law to freedom of overflight in intertiol airspace. All countries should respect this,” he said.
However, asked if Australia felt any threat from Chi’s activities, the minister said: “I don’t see it as a direct military threat, don’t believe Chi will get in a conflict with Australia.” The minister said Chi should make its strategic intent clear. “Chi has not made its strategic intention clear, (we) would like to know what Chi’s strategic interests are,” he said. He also said Australia will resist any aggression in the South Chi Sea that threatens global trade routes and that every country in the region should do the same.
Andrews said Australia encourages practical implementation of commitments under the Declaration on Conduct of the Parties in the South Chi Sea, and urged Chi and the ASEAN member countries to make early progress on a substantive Code of Conduct for the South Chi Sea. Responding to a question, the minister said Australia was ready to participate in multilateral exercises with other tions, and that walking out of the quadrilateral dialogue, which it exited in 2007, was a mistake. In 2007, the Exercise Malabar in the Bay of Bengal that included 25 vessels from India, the US, Japan, Australia and Singapore had made Chi uneasy. While Chi did not comment on the drill itself, it sent a demarche to India, the US, Japan and Australia seeking details about their four-tion meeting, termed Quadrilateral Initiative. Australia walked out the informal dialogue after that. Asked about the withdrawal, Andrews said: “It was a mistake... there was a different government then, it is not the outlook of the current government,” he said. “If we are invited by India in future, the clear stand will be to accept the invitation,” he added. On cooperation between India and Australia on defence, the minister said the two vies will conduct the “first Bilateral Maritime Exercise” — Exercise AUSINDEX — later this month. The exercise will take place at the Indian vy’s Eastern Fleet exercise area off the eastern coast of India.
“The exercise is a significant step forward in the bilateral defence relationship. It is a sign of growing val cooperation between both of our countries,” he said. Andrews said exercises should not be limited to the vies, and Australia has invited India for a joint exercise between the two air forces in 2016. “The Royal Australian Air Force has also recently issued an invitation for India to attend Exercise Pitch Black 16,” he said, referring to a biennial warfare exercise hosted by Australia, and added that a confirmation from India was awaited. “We are also slowly seeking to build our bilateral air force relationship based on our use of common platforms such as the Hawk, C-17, C-130 and P8 maritime patrol aircraft,” he said. (IANS)