‘Paper cat’ Australia risks choppy waters

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/2 0:08:39

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Tuesday that Australia is considering joint naval patrols with Indonesia in the South China Sea. She claimed Indonesia proposed joint patrols last week and the request was consistent with Australia's policies of exercising the right to freedom of navigation. The proposal has no intention to disrupt the relationship with China; it is called a peace patrol and is about protecting fish in each other's areas, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu was quoted as saying by Australian media.   

Despite the explanation, their joint patrol plan was immediately linked to the complicated South China Sea situation and is considered to have connotations that are not explicitly stated by the two sides. It's self-evident that their plan is stirring up anew the South China Sea situation, which had been calming down. We have reason to suspect that Australia is interested in doing so and the US is highly likely to be behind the scenes. On the South China Sea arbitration, Australia has left the impression of completely siding with the US.

The Philippine decision to opt out of confrontation with China and snub the South China Sea arbitration has frustrated Washington. Observers widely believe that the US will seek a new pivot for its Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy, and right on cue, the news came that Australia and Indonesia would jointly patrol in the South China Sea. 

The new move has deepened the impression that Australia has carried out strategic collaboration with the US in the waters. As for Indonesia, it has all along taken a neutral position toward the South China Sea issue, and its fishing disputes with China caused by maritime delimitation were not embroiled into the big power games in the waters. Jakarta has maintained a sound relationship with Beijing. But we cannot exclude the possibility that Indonesia, tempted by the US and Australia, would seek to maximize its own interests by walking a tightrope between China and the US.

Nonetheless, as Indonesia has no territorial disputes with China over islands and reefs, Canberra and Jakarta can only patrol at the fringes of the South China Sea waters, thus the impacts would not be the same if the patrols were with the Philippines or Vietnam. Besides, Indonesia has no desire to get too deeply involved in the South China Sea issue, nor is Australia powerful enough to cause a large-scale crisis. Unlike the US, Australia is not a paper tiger, but a paper cat. But vigilance is needed against their patrols becoming a precedent for the US and Japan to further step into South China Sea affairs.

Beijing should persuade Jakarta not to participate in such moves but impose pressure on Canberra. Canberra should be clearly told that it is not welcome to launch any geopolitics-oriented actions in the South China Sea. Any moves it makes that will harm the interests of China will receive firm countermeasures and retaliation. If it violates China's territorial waters and sky, it will be a target of China's punishments. 

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