A territorial dispute between Japan and China over a cluster of islands known as Senkaku in Tokyo and Diaoyu in Beijing has escalated into a war of words this week, after China declared that the islands would now fall under its air defence identification zone and it would assert its air rights over the islands.
The group of islands located 120 nautical miles off Taiwan were annexed by Japan in 1895 from Chinese control. They then switched hands to the United States Government in 1945 before being handed back to the Japanese government in 1972. Studies have found oil and gas reserves in the seas surrounding the islands.
The US showed its hand this week by intentionally flying two B-52 bombers over the airspace as a clear warning that it would push back against China’s aggressive stance to take back control over the islands.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop came out in support of Japan and the United States by echoing their thoughts on the matter. The Chinese government responded by labelling Ms Bishop’s remarks as “irresponsible”.
“It is completely a mistake for Australia to make irresponsible remarks on China’s establishment of an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea, and the Chinese side will not accept it,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said. “China urges Australia to correct its mistake immediately to prevent damaging Sino-Australia relations.”
Last month Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared that Japan was Australia’s “best friend” in Asia and with the United States backing Japan in this territorial matter, Ms Bishop’s comments were on money. China has been the ‘bully’ of the region for the last decade and its claims to the islands and airspace are simply unfounded.
Ms Bishop is imminently set to visit Australia’s largest trading partner China, to conduct talks which are expected to include the much talked about free trade deal which the Abbott government has been pushing for. Ms Bishop’s recent comments could potentially sour talks and delay the implementation of such an agreement, but Ms Bishop this morning said on Sky News that she doesn’t believe they will.
The real question I keep asking myself on this matter is why did we have to say anything at all? It’s noble to show support for our key allies by condemning the actions of China, but does the condemnation from our country even matter on the global stage when countries such as Japan, China and the United States are involved? I don’t think so.
Ms Bishop’s comments signal a new style of foreign relations in Australia where we aren’t afraid to step on a few toes to stand up for what is right and to have the backs of our key allies in the region.
What do you think? Was Ms Bishop right to condemn the actions of China or should she not have said anything at all and let the United States and Japan do all the talking? Should we be taking our relationship with China more seriously?