Calm down, Australia advises sea claimants

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Australian Ambassador to Manila Bill Tweddell called on China and claimant countries, including the Philippines, to exercise restraint, take steps to ease tensions and refrain from provocative actions that could escalate conflicts in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

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In a recent roundtable with The Manila Times editors and reporters, Tweddell clarified that his government does not take a position on competing claims in the area.

He, however, did not deny that Canberra has big interests in contested waters in the South China Sea because more than 80 percent of its trade pass through the critical maritime route.

“Australia has a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation,” he told the roundtable, which was observed and participated in by journalism students of The Manila Times College.

Just recently, actual photos of reclamation projects of China in the South China Sea surfaced and attracted international attention, fueling fears of heightened tensions.

“Australia strongly opposes the use of intimidation, aggression or coercion to advance any country’s claims or unilaterally alter the status quo. We call on governments to clarify and pursue territorial claims and accompanying maritime rights in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos),” Tweddell said.

He added that disputes must be resolved peacefully and all options for serious efforts at dispute resolution in the South China Sea—including arbitration—be available.

“We encourage practical implementation of commitments under the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC), including on self-restraint. We urge China and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) member-countries to make early progress on a substantive Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (CoC),” the Australian ambassador said.

Six countries, including the Philippines and China, have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The four others are Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam but it is China that is actively making its presence felt in the contested waters

The Philippines has a pending motion before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, questioning the moves of Beijing.

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