Australia needs to enhance relations with regional nations and support them in upholding international law in the South China Sea.


This Lowy Institute paper makes the following points:

  • China asserts historical claims to territory in ASEAN States’ Exclusive Economic Zones  (EEZ) through a so-called ‘nine-dash line’ principle.
  • The Philippines challenged and won these claims under a United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Tribunal ruling.
  • China rejects the ruling.
  • Australia was one of the first to support the ruling, angering China.
  • Under the UNCLOS ruling, a consistent South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) needs to be developed.
  • Anything China agrees to with ASEAN is likely contra to Australia’s interests.
  • Australia has some difficult decisions to make.
  • If Australia supports ASEAN nations, it risks continuing to sour relations with China.
  • The US is likely to pressure Australia to conduct freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the South China Sea, angering China.
  • Australia needs to encourage Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam to uphold international law and conduct joint naval exercises in their EEZ’s.

For further reading on this topic, please note this papers extensive endnotes.