Australian ex-defense chief calls for freedom of navigation

08/20/2019 10:43 PM

Taipei, Aug. 20 (CNA) Former Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne called on "all nations" Tuesday for freedom to navigate the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, which he considers international waters.

"We would encourage all nations to navigate international waters ... because that is the purpose of international waters, not to be held by any particular nation," Pyne said during an interview on the sidelines of the 2019 Asia-Pacific Security Dialogue in Taipei.

His statement was clearly a show of support for Washington's Freedom of Navigation Program, in which U.S. warships sail through the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, an action considered directed toward China.

Beijing has been ignoring a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague in 2016 which invalidated China's so-called nine-dash line and continued to claim almost the entire South China Sea as its own.

Aside from that, Chinese warplanes have crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait several times in recent months.

Following the U.S. move, more countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Australia have sent military ships to the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, two bodies of waters considered to be flashpoints in the region.

"Australia regards the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait as international waters. Therefore, being international waters, we have the right to navigate those waters," Pyne said.

On the protests in Hong Kong over the past two months, Pyne expressed hope that China will continue to allow events to play out and shun significant interference. "Taiwanese people will be seeing what 'one country, two systems' actually means if it plays out differently in Hong Kong," he said.

He also said he believes that the mass protests in Hong Kong will not end up in another bloody crackdown such as the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989, because China is much more integrated and engaged in the world economy and world diplomacy than it was more than three decades ago.

Meanwhile, Pyne branded as "exaggerated" predictions by some commentators that the U.S. is losing its military primacy in the region.

"We need to remember that one in every two dollars in the world that is spent on defense is being spent by the U.S.," he said. "And the U.S. alone has many allies and supporters like Australia, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, right across the Indo-Pacific."

(By Emerson Lim)


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