Australia and France are set to work together in the South China Sea as they look to limit the sole strength of China in the region.
As the trade wars between China and the US intensify, there is concern that China will make further inroads into territory in the South China Sea, which countries such as the Philippines also share. With such an area of geopolitical importance being close to Australia in the Pacific, the country has decided to increase its presence there in cooperation with France.
The move received confirmation at the joint Australia-France Defense Industry Symposium, held in Adelaide and hosted by Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne and French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly.
Pyne said that these actions are simply about promoting peace in the region and welcomed France’s experience and involvement in the matter. He added that Australia is looking forward to “a group working together in one particular formation that is multi-flagged,” showing just how important it is for the country to have the cooperation of other Pacific nations to work together on a strategy that limits expansion policies.
The South China Sea has become a strategic location in recent years, with natural resources as well as trade route access leading many countries to either stake a claim or prevent others from doing so. China is particularly protective of ships from other countries passing into the territory, including those from Australia.
Countries such as the Philippines, meanwhile, feel that their sovereign territory is under threat of erosion in some ways. China is increasing its territorial waters in the South China Sea to control a larger section of waters.
Pyne said that both Australia and France agree that no single country could lay claim to large portions of this sea outside of the standard expected territorial waters, which usually equates to no more than a dozen or so miles.
He noted that he and Parly both see this stretch as “international waters” and that they “are entitled to navigate as we see fit,” just as any country feels that it should be able to operate in unclaimed territories.
With disputes in this area becoming commonplace, Australia and France both hope to exchange dialogue with other ships in the region as well as with China, whose stance is apparently softening.
Parly noted that France has been feeling “very conscious that China is more and more receptive. One of the key areas in the South China Sea is the Spratly Islands, and military ships from varying countries have often found themselves challenged by China when in the area. China and the Philippines both lay claim to these islands, but China has been installing various anti-cruise missiles there to ward off any approach from other nations.
Meanwhile, Pyne played down reports suggesting that Australia has reached an impasse with France over the building and purchase of a dozen next-generation submarines.
With a total value of $AU50bn ($US36bn), the deal should include sustainment over the long term for the defense vessels.
The French Naval Group, a state-owned company formerly known as DCNS, received the project alongside Australian construction companies in April 2016. Its completion date should be in 2020.