Malcolm Turnbull has said every country in the region has a vested interest in peacefully resolving territorial disputes in East Asia and the South China Sea.
The Prime Minister has just attended the East Asia Summit in Laos, where more powerful nations, such as China, Russia and Japan, met with the South East Asian countries of ASEAN.
Two intensifying disputes over territory dominated the talks.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all stand against China, which claims the South China Sea on historical terms, as illustrated by a vague map made up of nine dashes.
Mr Turnbull said that while China’s allies within ASEAN — Cambodia, Laos and Brunei — were able to moderate any criticism of Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, the East Asia Summit may offer a more open discussion.
“The discussions later today I believe will be of course diplomatic but they’ll also be frank, and I think everybody knows where they stand,” he said.
There are efforts to establish a code of conduct between China and the other claimants but Malcolm Turnbull said a breakthrough was not expected any time soon.
“Progress is slow but there is, I would say, a sense of cautious optimism that agreement can be reached on the code of conduct,” he said.
An international court in The Hague recently found that China has no legal basis for its claim against the Philippines, but it is a ruling that China refuses to recognise.
“The decision in The Hague is a fact, it is a reality,” Mr Turnbull said.
“What we seek is that the rulings of international tribunals, including this one, are respected.”
The East Asia Summit also brings together Japan and China — the two parties at odds over the East Asia Sea.
In a meeting yesterday with Mr Turnbull, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described the East Asia Sea as an increasingly severe security environment.
“We have seen in our region for 40 years in relative peace and relative harmony, relative to the rest of the world,” Mr Turnbull said.
“That has been the foundation, the essential foundation, on which so much prosperity has been built.
“So everybody has a vested interest, from the biggest countries to the smallest countries, and anything which destabilises that puts so much at risk.”
Mr Turnbull held bilateral meetings with the leaders of Indonesia, China and Vietnam today.
The issue of Vietnam cancelling Australian memorials for the battle of Long Tan was raised and both leaders agreed that the details of future events should be settled in advance to avoid future misunderstandings.
The Prime Minister will soon depart for Micronesia where he will be attending the Pacific Leaders Forum.
Vietnam, China, Malaysia have eyes on the prize
Explore the conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea
|Rich in resources and traversed by a quarter of global shipping, the South China Sea is the stage for several territorial disputes that threaten to escalate tensions in the region.
At the heart of these disputes are a series of barren islands in two groups – the Spratly Islands, off the coast of the Philippines, and the Paracel Islands, off the coasts of Vietnam and China.
|Both chains are essentially uninhabitable, but are claimed by no fewer than seven countries, eager to gain control of the vast oil and gas fields below them, as well as some of the region’s best fishing grounds.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei have made claims to part of the Spratlys based on the internationally recognised Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends 200 hundred nautical miles from a country’s coastline.
|Based on the EEZ, the Philippines has the strongest claim on the Spratlys and their resources, with its EEZ covering much of the area.
However the lure of resources, and prospect of exerting greater control over shipping in the region, means that greater powers are contesting the Philippines’ claims.
|China has made extensive sovereignty claims on both the Spratlys and the Paracels to the north, based largely on historic claims outlined in a map from the middle part of the 20th Century known as the ‘Nine Dash Map’.
Taiwan also makes claims based on the same map, as it was created by the nationalist Kuomintang government, which fled to Taiwan after the communists seized power in China.
|Vietnam also claims the Spratlys and the Paracels as sovereign territory, extending Vietnam’s EEZ across much of the region and bringing it into direct conflict with China.
There have been deadly protests in Vietnam over China’s decision to build an oil rig off the Paracels.
One Chinese worker in Vietnam was killed and a dozen injured in riots targeting Chinese and Taiwanese owned factories, prompting 3,000 Chinese nationals to flee the country.
|EEZ can only be imposed based on boundaries of inhabitable land, and this has prompted all the countries making claims on the region to station personnel, and in some cases build military bases out of the water, to bolster their claim.
Building and protecting these structures has resulted in a series of stand-offs between countries in the region, each with the potential to escalate.
China has been leading the charge with these installations, and has deployed vessels to the region to protect their interests.
Chinese coast guard vessels have used a water cannon on Vietnamese vessels, as well as blockading an island where the Philippines has deployed military personnel.