Australia urges ASEAN to resolve sea disputes peacefully

Posted at 02/20/2014 10:50 PM | Updated as of 02/20/2014 10:50 PM

MANILA - Australia urged claimants in the South China Sea to resolve disputes using dialogue and to maintain peace through a crucial trade route.

Australia Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario met in Manila on Thursday, together with their trade counterparts, to discuss regional security and economic concerns.

"Australia does not take a position on these competing claims, but we urge all parties to resolve their differences peacefully and lawfully. And we believe that there should be consultation, that there should be dialogue. In the case of the South China Sea, we support ASEAN's objectives in concluding a code of conduct with China," Bishop said.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all claim parts of the sea that provides 10 percent of global fish catches and carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade.

China claims about 90 percent of the 3.5 million square km (1.35 million square miles) South China Sea, depicting what it sees as its area on maps with a so-called nine-dash line, looping far out over the sea from south China.

Bishop urged for cooperation between China and Japan.

"In relation to the Senkaku/Diaoyu issue, we urge both sides not to escalate tensions, to recognise that many countries have a deep interest in ensuring that there is peace and cooperation between China and Japan. Australia does have a legitimate interest in these matters; for example, 60 percent of our exports pass through the South China Sea, 40 percent of our imports. And so we are concerned that there be stability and peace in the region," Bishop said.

The Philippines has taken its dispute with China to arbitration under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea but China is refusing to participate in the case.

China has rejected challenges to its sovereignty claims, and accused the Philippines of illegally occupying Chinese islands in the seas and of provoking tension there.

"We believe that we have exhausted all possibilities. We have attempted a political solution. We have attempted a diplomatic solution. And we've come to the last resort, which is arbitration. It is a mechanism that is within the ambit of international law. And we are utilising this mechanism to help in terms of solving this dispute for us," del Rosario said.

On the Australian missionary, John Short, whose wife has said was arrested in North Korea, Bishop said in the absence of an Australian embassy in Pyongyang, they were going through the Swedish embassy.

"We have made attempts through our Swedish counterparts to establish how he is, where he is, and I'm waiting for reports on that," she said.

Australia-Philippines ties span defence, mining investments, education, trade and migration, among others. Chief executives from Australian firms joined the delegation on the three-day visit.

Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb said Australia, boasting a highly lucrative mining industry, can also help in crafting effective regulations for managing the Philippines' mineral resources.

"You're very well endowed resource company, highly endowed resource company, but it needs to be done in a way which makes sure it is fair, and that the community gets advantage, it's done environmentally, and it looks after indigenous people in your country, as we sought to do in Australia. So what I'm saying is, it can be done. And whatever we can do to help share that experience, we will do so," Robb said.

Several Australian firms operate gold and copper mines in the Philippines.

The Philippines is estimated to sit on mineral deposits worth $850 billion and the government is keen to extract more revenues from the mining industry.