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Aussies, Kiwis call for restraint

/ 04:43 AM February 20, 2016

SYDNEY—Australia and New Zealand on Friday strongly urged China to refrain from stoking tensions in the South China Sea after its apparent deployment of surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island there.

Tensions between China and its neighbors Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan over sovereignty in the South China Sea were raised after Taiwan and US officials said China deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to Woody Island, in the Paracel island chain.

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“We urge all claimants in the South China Sea to refrain from any building of islands, any militarization of islands, any land reclamation,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said after a meeting in Sydney with his New Zealand counterpart, John Key. “It is absolutely critical that we ensure that there is a lowering of tensions.”

Turnbull said if Chinese President Xi Jinping was serious about avoiding the so-called Thucydides Trap, where a rising power causes fear in an established power that escalates toward war, he must resolve disputes through international law.

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“President Xi is right in identifying avoiding that trap as a key goal,” said Turnbull, who is expected to visit Beijing in April.

NZ leverage

New Zealand, the first developed country to recognize China as a market economy and to sign a bilateral free trade deal, was leveraging its relationship with China to urge measures to lower tensions, Key said.

“As we get a deeper and closer economic relationship with China, does that give us more opportunities to make that case, both privately and publicly? … my view is yes,” Key said, noting that both Australia and New Zealand are now also part of the Asian Investment Bank.

The comments come after Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Beijing, where she bought up the missiles and the South China Sea in meetings with Chinese officials, including the top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

Yang, in a statement released by the foreign ministry late on Thursday, said he told Bishop that Australia was not a party to the dispute, should stick to its promises not to take sides and “not participate in or take any actions to harm regional peace and stability or Sino-Australia ties.”

China claims nearly all of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, and has built artificial islands there, with airstrips on some, to bolster its claim. It maintains it has the right to deploy necessary “self-defense” measures there.

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‘Limited defenses’

Yang explained that the islands in the South China Sea had been China’s since ancient times and that the “limited defensive facilities that China has deployed on its own territory have nothing to do with militarization,” according to the foreign ministry statement.

Five Southeast Asian countries—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam—have lay claims to parts of the South China Sea. A sixth claimant, Taiwan, confirmed the deployment of the missiles on Woody Island, first reported by Fox News earlier this week.

The United States accused China on Thursday of raising tensions in the South China Sea by its deployment of the missiles.

John Kirby, spokesperson for the US state department, said commercial satellite imagery suggested “very recent” placement of missiles on Woody Island that went against China’s pledge not to militarize the South China Sea.

“The Chinese have said one thing, and yet appear to be doing another,” Kirby told a regular news briefing.

“We see no indication that … this militarization effort has stopped. And it’s doing nothing … to make the situation there more stable and more secure. In fact, it’s having quite the opposite effect,” Kirby said.

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TAGS: Australia, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, China, John Key, John Kirby, New Zealand, Paracel Island, South China, Woody Island
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