Australia has joined the United States and Japan in issuing a rebuke to China over the South China Sea at a meeting directly after ASEAN took a softer stance on the issue.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been in the Philippines over the past few days for the East Asia Summit and ASEAN-Australia ministerial meetings.
At the meeting ASEAN countries announced they had come to a consensus on a framework for the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, which despite lobbying by Vietnam, did not include a reference to whether it would be legally binding.
Despite the Philippines initiating international legal proceeding against China over the South China Sea in the first place, the county’s incumbent administration has downplayed the dispute at times in order to have stronger economic relations with the superpower.
After the ASEAN meetings, Ms Bishop met with US Secretary of State and Japanese Foreign Minister Tarō Kōno for the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue.
The three ministers issued a long statement which singled out China and the Philippines and expressed “serious concern” over South China Sea maritime disputes.
“The Ministers called on China and the Philippines to abide by the Arbitral Tribunal’s 2016 Award in the Philippines-China arbitration, as it is final and legally binding on both parties,” the statement read.
The ministers backed in Vietnam and said the code of conduct should be legally binding, a principle Ms Bishop has previously pushed for.
“The Ministers further urged ASEAN member states and China to ensure that the COC be finalised in a timely manner, and that it be legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with international law.”
Ms Bishop, Mr Tillerson and Mr Kono said they strongly opposed island building in the South China Sea.
“The Ministers voiced their strong opposition to coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions.”
“In this regard, the Ministers urged SCS claimants to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts, militarisation of disputed features, and undertaking unilateral actions that cause permanent physical change to the marine environment in areas pending delimitation.”
The statement addressed the North Korean missile tensions and terrorism.
The ministers said nations should “make further efforts” to change Pyongyang’s behaviour.
“The Ministers called on the international community to implement strictly UNSC resolutions and impose additional diplomatic and economic measures to address the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) threat posed by the North Korean regime and its destabilising behaviour, and to make further efforts to urge North Korea to abandon its current threatening and provocative path and immediately take steps to denuclearise.”
The Turnbull government has repeatedly urged China to place pressure on its rogue neighbour and ally to turn away from its nuclear weapons program.
The UN Security Council, which includes China, voted unanimously over the weekend for new sanctions on Pyongyang after a number of long-range missile launches this year.
The sanctions include a partial ban on exports, new asset freezes and travel bans, as well as measures which target North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank.
Australia supported the move and said they would add additional individuals and seven entities to the county’s blacklist.
“In support of international efforts on North Korea, Australia will also apply targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on several additional individuals and seven entities under Australia’s autonomous sanctions regime,” Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop said in a statement.
Ms Bishop also met with fiery Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte to discuss the three month old crisis in the country where Islamic State-inspired extremists captured the southern city of Marawi.
In June Australia announced it would send two AP-3C Orion aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force to help the Armed Forces of the Philippines spy on the militants.
“I met Filipino President Duterte to discuss the ongoing situation in Marawi,” she said in a statement to The Australian.
By PRIMROSE RIORDAN