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Australia against militarisation of South China Sea 

New Delhi, Sep 2 (IANS) Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews on Wednesday opposed the militarisation of the South China Sea, saying his country has a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation and overflight in those waters.

He said Australia was ready to hold exercises with more than one nation, years after it took a step back following China’s discomfort over a naval exercise involving five countries.

“Australia strongly opposes the use of intimidation, aggression or coercion to advance any country’s claims or to unilaterally alter the status quo. We are particularly concerned about the possible militarisation of features in the South China Sea,” said Andrews, who is on a three-day tour to India.

The minister, giving a lecture at IDSA here, said the South China Sea has attracted “lot of international attention” recently.

“Australia has a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea,” he said.

“Australia has not taken sides on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, but we are concerned about the large-scale land reclamation and construction activity by China and other claimants that raises tensions in the region.

“It is important to recognise that all states have a right under international law to freedom of overflight in international airspace. All countries should respect this,” he said.

However, asked if Australia felt any threat from China’s activities, the minister said: “I don’t see it as a direct military threat, don’t believe China will get in a conflict with Australia.”

The minister said China should make its strategic intent clear.

“China has not made its strategic intention clear, (we) would like to know what China’s strategic interests are,” he said.

He also said Australia will resist any aggression in the South China Sea that threatens global trade routes and that every country in the region should do the same.

Andrews said Australia encourages practical implementation of commitments under the Declaration on Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea, and urged China and the ASEAN member countries to make early progress on a substantive Code of Conduct for the South China Sea.

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