Canberra confirmed last week that the Australian Navy won’t conduct freedom-of-navigation patrols in the international waters of the South China Sea, giving China’s bid to dominate the strategic area a boost.
An international tribunal ruled in July that China’s bid to claim most of the sea violates international law. But the verdict will be rendered moot unless law-abiding states are willing to push back. That would give Beijing effective control over the 60% of Australian trade that transits the sea.
However, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop appear to have gotten their marching orders from PRC President Xi Jinping and Wang Yi. Embarrassingly (did Turnbull have the grace for embarrassment), Turnbull has decried opposition to this acquiescence as “highly political,” and a measure of “immaturity and unreadiness to take responsibility for these issues.” Bishop is terrified that enforcing freedom of navigation imperatives—even international law—would “escalate tensions.”
You bet the matter is highly political, Turnbull. Enforcing international law—or surrendering the rights involved to the biggest bully—is purely political. In what venue would you place it otherwise? Your inability to understand that, or your timidity in acting on an accurate understanding, marks your own political immaturity and unreadiness.
Escalating tensions? The PRC is already doing that with its seizure and occupation of the South China Sea, and it’s actively pressing its advantage gained from your backing away from tension.
You guys used to be made of sterner stuff. What happened to the Australian government that faced down a rampant Japan on your doorstep just 75 years ago?
Or are you thinking you have no support from the US, which already is in retreat before the PRC? That, at least, would have a ring of shameful truth to it.