Thursday, November 28, 2013

• China, Australia spat over Air Defence Identification Zone highlights 'troubled relations' in region by Catherine McGrath


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Japanese Maritime Defence Force Murasame Class destroyer JMSDF Murasame 
(left) and US Navy Arleigh Burke Class destroyer USS Preble sail in company 
with HMAS Sydney as the three warships participate in officer of the 
watch manoeuvres in the Pacific Ocean during the lead-up to 
Exercise Pacific Bond 2013

China's decision to establish an ADIZ is unhelpful, disturbing and cannot be ignored.

There is no doubting this is an important week in the rocky history of relations in north Asia and tensions over the disputed islands in the East China Sea.
The turning point came last week when China announced it was establishing an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), with Japan and the United States quick to react.
Then came Australia. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called in the Chinese Ambassador for a dressing down and Beijing responded by calling Australia's behaviour irresponsible and mistaken.

Australia's language on China is getting tougher under this Government but arguably so are the strategic circumstances it is dealing with. From Australia's perspective, China's decision to establish an ADIZ is unhelpful, disturbing and cannot be ignored. The spat comes at a crucial time because tensions in the East China Sea are as high as any moment in the post-cold war era. "China is not pleased," Professor Jingdong Yuan, a pro-China activist from the University of Sydney, said. Professor Yuan believes Australia's decision to call in the Chinese Ambassador was a step too far and that by taking this position Australia can no longer be seen as impartial. But as far as Australia is concerned China should understand that the timing of its decision is going to be questioned.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings believes Australia had to say something. "The application of the ADIZ has not been helpful and is a diplomatic misstep on the part of Chinese," he said. "They should not be surprised that countries like Japan, US and Australia have made comments that they are going too far. "It doesn't mean Australia is taking sides. "Saying nothing would not be conducive to managing a set of troubled relations in the region," Mr Jennings said.
"The move by China was unhelpful and came at the wrong time. It has created a new tension which no one needs right now. Lower key strategies would have been more useful to adopt at this time." 

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop talked of the need to invigorate the Australian-Japan relationship

China watching Australia's relationship with 'closest friend' Japan China is also concerned about Australia's growing closeness to Japan under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Abbott. While Labor was in power, relations with Japan took a back seat to a focus on growing ties with China, even though Japan and Australia share a very close strategic and defence relationship. The Abbott Government has made it clear it wants to strengthen ties with Japan it believes have been left behind in recent years.
It is a delicate repositioning because of existing regional tensions and the Abbott Government emphasises the move will no be at the expense of China.
At the East Asia Summit meeting in Brunei in October, Mr Abbott, after his meeting with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, described Japan as Australia's "closest friend in Asia". Immediately China started to take notice. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is due shortly to travel to China. She has already been to Tokyo.
In a Canberra speech in early November, Ms Bishop talked of the need to invigorate the Australian-Japan relationship but emphasized that would not take anything from the relationship with China.

"The relationship with Japan has not had sufficient recognition in recent years as much of the rest of the world shifted focus to China and the extraordinary size and speed of its growth," Ms Bishop said. "Of course China's rise must be and will be embraced; it is in every nation's interest for China to become even more than it is today.
"However, Australia's friendship with a rising China does not come at the expense of close and longstanding friendships." There is nothing in these statements for China to complain about, but it is watching Australia to see how this develops. Australia meantime hopes China understands reinvigorating ties with Japan should not be seen as threatening.