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Cold China welcome for Bishop

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has arrived in Beijing on the heels of a terse reaction from the Chinese government to her comments on disputed islands in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has challenged Beijing at an arbitration court in The Hague over Chinese claims to the islands.

Speaking in Tokyo before she left for China, Ms Bishop said Australia did not take sides on the competing claims in the waters but was awaiting the outcome of the arbitration.

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“We recognise 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,” she said.

Asked about the remarks, Reuters reported that Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he believed Australia “understands” China’s position on the South China Sea.

Mr Hong repeated that China thought the Philippines arbitration case contravened international law and went against the consensus Beijing and Manila have had on the issue.

“China certainly will not accept this. Australia ought not to selectively avoid this reality,” he told a daily news briefing on Tuesday.

Ms Bishop will meet with Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday for an annual foreign and strategic dialogue.

The meeting will canvas bilateral relations, regional and global issues including the South China Sea maritime dispute.

Ahead of her arrival in Beijing, Ms Bishop told reporters she would seek more information about China’s intended use of construction on reclaimed islands.

She noted that her ministerial counterpart in the past had signalled there would be “public good” from the islands.

China has ramped up construction of the artificial islands in a move some experts believe is aimed at bolstering its territorial claims.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei also claim parts of the sea.

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