EU should push back on Beijing in South China Sea, says Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

Surveillance pictures of Chinese coast guard ships and barges at the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.  Photo: Philippine Government via AP
Surveillance pictures of Chinese coast guard ships and barges at the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Photo: Philippine Government via AP
Julie Bishop speaking at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin. Photo: Nick Miller

Julie Bishop speaking at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin. Photo: Nick Miller

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has appealed for European Union backing in pushing back at China's land grab in the South China Sea, amid new reports that China is about to build on a disputed shoal.

Ms Bishop cited Australia's support for sanctions against Russia after its annexation of Crimea as a reason for the EU to support the Philippines against Chinese expansion.

The Philippines said on Wednesday it was "gravely concerned" that Chinese boats were preparing to build structures at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, despite a ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague in July that China had no right to the waterway.

The Philippines released photos that it said showed Chinese ships, including a dredger, near the chain of reefs and rocks.

China denied there had been dredging or building at the shoal, AP reported.

During a Q&A session at a German think-tank in Berlin, Ms Bishop said though other countries had reclaimed land "the sheer scale, size and speed with which [China] has achieved this is unlike any other country".

Australia has reasserted its right to overflight and traversing international waters in the South China Sea.

The Hague tribunal decision was clear, final and binding, she said.

But China has declared the Hague tribunal finding "null and void".

"We also look to the European Union to state its support for rules-based international order," Ms Bishop told the Konrad Adenauer Foundation audience, which included German MPs and policymakers.

"When Russia sought to redraw the boundaries of Ukraine and Crimea, Australia joined with the European Union in imposing sanctions - not because it was in our part of the world but because it was against the rules-based international order and the sovereignty of a nation state.

"The Hague has found that China is seeking to redraw maritime boundaries and in fact has built a structure within the Philippines EEZ (exclusive economic zone). So similarly we'll look to the EU to maintain its stand based on well-founded principles of international law."

After the meeting Ms Bishop clarified that she was not calling for sanctions against China, as had been imposed on Russia after it moved into Crimea.

"The point I was drawing was when a country seeks to redraw boundaries, other countries must stand up for the international rules-based order. That was the point I was making," she said.

On Russia, Ms Bishop said she expected the EU to maintain the sanctions imposed after the incursion into Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, and "I didn't hear any different view expressed while I've been here".

Ms Bishop also revealed that foreign ministers will meet in the wings of the UN General Assembly the week after next to discuss what they will do when investigators reveal who is responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.

Last year flight safety investigators concluded the plane was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile launched from eastern Ukraine, but they made no official finding on who launched it.

A multi-nation Joint Investigation Team is due to report this month on the first results of the criminal investigation into the crash, concerning the weapon which was used to shoot down the aircraft and the exact launch site of the weapon.

The rest of its findings, including the identity and nationality of any people considered responsible for the crash, will be included in a criminal file intended for the hearing of the case in a court or a tribunal.

"The Joint Investigation Team is in the process of concluding its final report," Ms Bishop said.

"I will be part of a meeting on the sides of the UN General Assembly leaders week with the other members of the JIT team, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Belgium, Malaysia, Australia and the Netherlands.

"We will discuss a way forward depending on the recommendations of the JIT team. Until we see the final report we are at this stage just working on different options that would be available to us.

"Depending upon the names of the people who were responsible for this atrocity and on the countries from where they came, our response will of course be targeted to those options."

This story EU should push back on Beijing in South China Sea, says Foreign Minister Julie Bishop first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.