Aus­tralia’s dou­ble stan­dard over ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS - The au­thor is a se­nior writer with China Daily. wanghui@chi­

The dis­putes be­tween Aus­tralia and its smaller neigh­bor East Ti­mor over mar­itime bound­aries could serve as a use­ful lens for oth­ers to see through the dou­ble stan­dard of someWestern coun­tries.

On Aug 29, Aus­tralia’s For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop and the At­tor­neyGen­er­alGe­orge Bran­dis said in a joint state­ment that Aus­tralia will ar­gue that an ar­bi­tra­tion body in TheHague has no ju­ris­dic­tion to set­tle a dis­pute with East Ti­mor over their mar­itime boundary, adding that Aus­tralia did not con­sider its fi­nal report would be bind­ing.

The state­ment was is­sued the same day a con­cil­i­a­tion com­mis­sion was due to hear an ar­bi­tra­tion case ini­ti­ated by East Ti­mor against Aus­tralia in The Hague over the dis­puted Ti­mor Sea.

To cut a long story short, the feud be­tween Aus­tralia and East Ti­mor stems from the lat­ter’s at­tempt to rene­go­ti­ate mar­itime bound­aries with Aus­tralia in the Ti­mor Sea, which is abun­dant in oil and nat­u­ral gas re­serves. Over the years, Aus­tralia has al­legedly re­sorted to mal­prac­tice, such as spy­ing, to gain com­mer­cial prof­its from a bi­lat­eral gas deal.

It is not un­com­mon for coun­tries to have mar­itime de­mar­ca­tion dis­putes. Yet, what is un­com­mon in the Aus­trali­aEast Ti­mor dis­pute is the sharp dif­fer­ence be­tween Aus­tralia’s at­ti­tude to­wards its own mar­itime dis­pute and to­ward the ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute be­tween China and the Philip­pines in the South China Sea.

Soon af­ter an ar­bi­tral tri­bunal in The Hague handed down its rul­ing in fa­vor of the Philip­pines in the South China Sea ar­bi­tra­tion case on July 12, Aus­tralia joined a cho­rus led by the United States to press China to ac­cept the rul­ing, giv­ing a deaf year to China’s stance that the ar­bi­tral tri­bunal had no ju­ris­dic­tion over the case.

The two sets of dis­putes bear a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties: Both in­volve a big coun­try with a smaller neigh­bor; the two smaller coun­tries have uni­lat­er­ally brought the dis­putes to ar­bi­tra­tion; there is a bi­lat­eral agree­ment in place in both cases which shores up peace­ful res­o­lu­tions to mar­itime dis­putes.

The first two are clear, but more might need to be ex­plained about the third sim­i­lar­ity. While Aus­tra- lia and East Ti­mor agreed a treaty in 2006 to shelve their bor­der dis­pute for 50 years, China and the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions, of which the Philip­pines is a mem­ber, is­sued a Dec­la­ra­tion on the Con­duct of Par­ties in the South China Sea in 2002, pledg­ing that the par­ties con­cerned should re­solve their dis­pute through ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Nonethe­less, Can­berra has let hypocrisy play an up­per hand and em­ployed a dou­ble stan­dard in the two sets of mar­itime dis­putes. On July 25, the for­eign min­is­ters of Aus­tralia, US and Ja­pan is­sued a tri­lat­eral state­ment in Vi­en­tiane, Laos, urg­ing China to re­spect the in­ter­na­tional ar­bi­tra­tion rul­ing.

Can­berra has also claimed it will con­tinue to ex­er­cise the free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion un­der the in­ter­na­tional law in the South China Sea.

“Don’t do unto oth­ers what you don’t want oth­ers to do unto you.” This is a sim­ple doc­trine in in­ter­na­tional relations, which Aus­tralia has ap­par­ently ig­nored when it in­sisted the con­cil­i­a­tion com­mis­sion has no ju­ris­dic­tion over its own mar­itime dis­putes with East Ti­mor but in­sist­ing the ar­bi­tral tri­bunal does have over the dis­pute be­tween China and the Philip­pines in the South China Sea.

Such a prac­tice of dou­ble stan­dard will only erode Aus­tralia’s own cred­i­bil­ity and fuel sus­pi­cions about Aus­tralia’s sin­cer­ity about main­tain­ing sound and ro­bust ties with China.

As a non-party to the South China Sea dis­putes, Aus­tralia should not med­dle in the trou­bled wa­ters. Can­berra needs to un­der­stand an ob­jec­tive, in­de­pen­dent and im­par­tial stance to­wards the dis­putes not only serves its own in­ter­ests but the larger pic­ture of Chi­naAus­tralia ties.

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