The Australian government is all set to ask China about its massive island-building program in the South China Sea, with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on a “please explain” mode to Beijing.
The reason behind taking such step is Australia’s fear of the reclaimed structures being militarised by China. However, Beijing has never accepted having plans to militarise the islands. In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Bishop that the developments were inclined to “humanitarian” operations, including search and rescue missions.
“I’ve had that conversation before and this time I’d like to focus in on that because we now know what’s actually built there,” Bishop said as quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald. “[It’s] a practical, pragmatic, ‘what now?’ … I’m going to take that further if I can.”
According to Sydney Morning Herald, the Chinese nation has built several military-grade runways and lighthouses on various artificial islands since then. While the construction was under progress, the United States has been asking regional powers to participate in regular patrolling, among which some are already involved in strained links with China. It was reported in December that Australia had revamped its military surveillance on South China Sea claims made by China.
A routine patrolling in the area was undertaken as part of Operation Gateway, which roused a severe threat from China as reported by The Global Times, a state-owned Chinese publication. The reports suggested that in case the Aussies continued their “freedom of navigation” mission over the disputed maritime territories, there might be severe consequences to it.
“The Chinese people cannot understand why the Australian military would get involved, and to be honest, they have less patience to prevent a flare up,” the translated editorial read, as quoted by Business Insider.
“Australian military planes better not regularly come to the South China Sea to ‘get involved’, and especially don’t test China’s patience by flying to close to China’s islands. Everyone has always been careful, but it would be a shame if one day a plane fell from the sky and it happened to be Australian.”