Labor’s defence spokesman Stephen Conroy has accused China of bullying other nations over the South China Sea, claiming Australia has only been pretending to hold regular patrols in the region.
“China’s been engaged in an aggressive and at-times bullying performance, and has now been called out by the international court,” Senator Conroy told Radio National this morning.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has warned China that it must heed the ruling handed down in The Hague, saying that “to ignore it would be serious international transgression, there would be strong reputational costs”.
She said Australia would continue to exercise its right to Freedom of Navigation in the region, but would not confirm whether Australia would conduct patrols within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial islands.
“Australia will continue to exercise our international law rights to Freedom of Navigation and overflight, and support the right of others to do so,” she said.
But Senator Conroy said he had personally questioned Defence officials through the Senate estimates process and they had made it clear they were not authorised to engage in Freedom of Navigation exercises.
“The Government is continuing to pretend to the Australian people that it has an ongoing program of what is referred to as Freedom of Navigation operations in and around the South China Sea,” he said.
“Australia should authorise its forces to both sail and fly over the areas of the South China Sea.”
Senator Conroy said actions involving the Australian Navy and Air Force should not be telegraphed in advance.