Canberra should ditch double standards over maritime law

By Su Hao and Wang Zheng Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/6 21:28:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The South China Sea disputes should be resolved between China and other claimants, but countries from outside have intervened, making the regional situation more sophisticated and strained. Around the announcement of arbitration tribunal over the South China Sea, Australia, as a country outside the region, called on China and the Philippines to abide by the award "which is final and binding on both parties," and claimed that it will continue to exercise the freedom of navigation under the international law. Canberra later released a joint statement with Washington and Tokyo, urging Beijing to respect the award. Australia attempts to perform "decently" by firmly supporting the international tribunal's ruling however absurd it is. But apparently, Canberra has adopted double standards. 

The Australia-East Timor disputes over maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea have been simmering for a long time, and the case is being heard at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague at present.

But in the meantime, Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the Attorney General George Brandis issued a joint statement: "In line with our pre-existing, legally binding treaties, which are in full accordance with international law, we will argue that the commission does not have jurisdiction to conduct hearings on maritime boundaries." This means Australia will not accept the tribunal's award on the disputes.

The border disputes between Australia and East Timor date back to the colonial age. East Timor was once colonized by Portugal and then controlled by Indonesia, but local people insisted on building an independent and sovereign state. The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste was officially founded on May 20, 2002 and was the first new-born nation of the 21st century. Although East Timor shared the Timor Sea with Australia, the maritime boundaries have not been settled between the two states. A number of agreements were reached between Australia and Indonesia over maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea in the 20th century, but they have not been recognized by the East Timorese government and people.

The Timor Sea Arrangement was signed between Australia and the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) in July, 2001. The Timor Sea Treaty between Australia and East Timor took effect in April, 2003, and two sides reached consensus on the exploitation of resources. Australia and East Timor clinched the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea in January, 2006. They agreed to shelve the border disputes for 50 years and make a 50-50 split on the profits in the disputed Greater Sunrise.

However, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), most oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea fall within East Timor's territory, and thus the East Timorese government attempts to settle border disputes with Australia via negotiation or law, which was later turned down by the Australian side. Canberra's spying scandal in 2012 has intensified the maritime disputes. East Timor protested in March to demand negotiations with Australia, but the latter has not agreed to settle the disputes via bilateral talks. Australia refused to accept the PCA arbitration case initiated by East Timor in April.

The Australian foreign minister has shifted her attitude to the South China Sea arbitration within less than two months. It is ironic that Australia refuses to accept the Timor Sea arbitration but meanwhile urges China to abide by the South China Sea award.

Bishop claimed earlier that China should respect the South China Sea award that is "final and binding." Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne reached a consensus with his Japanese counterpart Tomomi Inada in August that China should abide by the South China Sea award. It puzzles the international community that the Australian government has adopted a totally different attitude on the Timor Sea arbitration, which was heard through the same system as in the South China Sea case.

Having denied the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal over maritime demarcation on its own account, Australia should not force other countries to accept the tribunal's award. Australia will lose its credibility over its "double standards." It should not involve itself in the South China Sea arbitration while challenged by the maritime boundary disputes itself.

It is power politics when Australia, with its own disputes unsettled, deploys military force to safeguard the so-called maritime orders in the waters of other countries. The Australian government should not do what it would not like the international community to do to itself.

Su Hao is director of the Center for Strategic and Conflict Management at China Foreign Affairs University. Wang Zheng is a PhD candidate at China Foreign Affairs University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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