Australian leaders call for halt to Chinese expansion
AUSTRALIA is working closely with the Philippines and other claimants in the South China Sea to reduce tensions and achieve a peaceful resolution of the disputes in the region, Canberra’s top diplomat in Manila said on Saturday.
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely spoke after Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop separately called for a halt to further Chinese expansion in the South China Sea following discovery that China had placed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago.
“We, of course, work very closely with all countries in the region, including the Philippines. And you know, we believe that the best way of resolving this situation is for countries to talk to each other and come up with a negotiated outcome to the issue,” Gorely told reporters.
“South China Sea is a very important area for Australia. Most of our trade passes through those sea-lanes. The security of the Asia-Pacific region is absolutely essential to our own security,” Gorely said.
Turnbull and Bishop condemned China’s deployment of surface-to-air missiles on the Woody Island, which it controls but is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
Call for restraint
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key joined Turnbull in calling for restraint, saying after meeting his Australian counterpart in Sydney on Friday that his country could leverage its deepening economic relationship with China to push for a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea disputes.
The Philippines also criticized the deployment on Friday, saying the latest Chinese action further stoked tensions in the region and brought to question China’s commitment to earlier claimant pacts against militarization in the waterway.
China claims almost all of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts or all of the waterway through which $5 trillion in global trade passes every year and where islets, reefs and atolls are believed to be sitting atop vast energy reserves.
Gorely said Australia had long been promoting sober negotiations to settle the disputes.
“Those comments, in many ways, are nothing new. We’ve been saying for a long time that we support a peaceful resolution of disputes arising in the South China Sea. We support freedom of navigation. Our ships and airplanes have always operated through that region and will continue to do so,” said Gorely, who assumed the Manila post last month.
Gorely spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the launch of Celebrate Australia 2016, a mall roadshow that is part of the embassy’s celebration of 70 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and the Philippines.
Gorely led the launch of a touring exhibition featuring Australian tourism, food and retail products at SM Aura at Bonifacio Global City on Saturday afternoon.
In remarks during the program, Gorely noted longstanding ties between the Philippines and Australia, including the participation of 4,000 Australian soldiers who fought alongside Filipinos and other allied forces in World War II.
Gorely also cited Australia’s contribution to the global response to the devastation caused by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) in Eastern Visayas in 2013, the worst humanitarian emergency suffered by the Philippines.
Gorely is traveling to Tacloban City this week to visit projects funded by the Australian government as part of the rebuilding process.
“One of the things I’ll be doing while I’m there is inaugurating a new day care center that has been funded by the Australian government as part of our aid program,” she said.
“That’s going to be exciting for me to see, and I will be going to see some of the houses we have helped to rebuild and also meeting the local mayor and governor and the people of Tacloban who have been so resilient throughout this process,” she said.
Australia is an important trading partner for the Philippines, with two-way trade pegged at A$4.1 billion in 2014, or P139.76 billion.
Australia is also a highly preferred destination for Filipino immigrants, now numbering 250,000.
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