Australia Cedes the Seas: The ruling Liberals won’t conduct patrols of the South China Sea

Australia Cedes the Seas: The ruling Liberals won’t conduct patrols of the South China Sea, by the Wall Street Journal Editor.

Canberra confirmed last week that the Australian Navy won’t conduct freedom-of-navigation patrols in the international waters of the South China Sea, giving China’s bid to dominate the strategic area a boost. Such patrols are a basic requirement for the rules-based global order that Australia says it is committed to upholding.

An international tribunal ruled in July that China’s bid to claim most of the sea violates international law. But the verdict will be rendered moot unless law-abiding states are willing to push back. That would give Beijing effective control over the 60% of Australian trade that transits the sea. …

Naval patrols within 12 miles of Chinese-claimed features would “escalate tensions,” said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, echoing language often used by Chinese officials. …

South China Sea

The Liberals’ climbdown is particularly damaging because it follows a long campaign of bullying from Chinese officials and state media. “Australia is not a party to the South China Sea issue” and must “carefully talk and cautiously behave,” Beijing’s Foreign Ministry warned after Aussie officials praised the tribunal verdict in July. The state-run Global Times threatened, “If Australia steps into the South China Sea waters, it will be an ideal target for China to warn and strike.” …

Canberra’s decision can’t be separated from Washington’s ambivalence. As U.S. officials encouraged Australia to step up, the Obama Administration authorized a mere three U.S. freedom of navigation patrols, all under the minimalist doctrine of “innocent passage” and after months of hand-wringing that undermined the intended signal of resolve. If the next U.S. President takes a more serious approach, it might inspire Canberra to do the same.

See the warning from China.