The Australian Labor Party has vowed to send Australian warships within 12 nautical miles of the islands in the South China Sea. The party has claimed doing so if it comes to power. Shadow Defence Minister Stephen Conroy has said Royal Australian Navy has every right to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.

Tensions are up between China and neighbours after Taiwan and the US accused Beijing of having deployed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island.

“The international treaties, the international laws of the sea, allow us to sail well within the 12 miles of all of these disputed territories,” Conroy told Capital Hill, reports The ABC.

The militarisation of the South China Sea is threatening to escalate tensions in the region. On the one hand, there are fears of China blocking freedom of navigation. This is the concern of the United States and its Asia Pacific allies. China’s refusal to cooperate on international arbitration initiated by the Philippines has made the issue more complex.

According to the Labor leader, these islands are not anyone’s territory yet. “We can sail legally, peacefully, through these alleged 12 mile-limits. It’s China that’s trying to claim a 12-mile limit,” Conroy noted.

However, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken the stand of restraint. “There is a massive vested interest in reducing tensions and not doing things, any measures that would inflame tensions, and so what is why we’ve said in the communique that we urge restraint, on all claimants, not just China, but all of them,” Turnbull said.

At the core of the South China Sea territory dispute is a series of barren islands. Those are Spratly Islands, near the Philippines and Paracel Islands, near Vietnam. Those islands are rich in resources.

Meanwhile, Vietnam protested against a “serious violation” of its sovereignty. This followed Beijing’s reported deployment of advanced missile system on a South China Sea island, reports Reuters.

“Vietnam is deeply concerned about the actions by China. These are serious infringements of Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracels, threatening peace and stability in the region as well as security, safety and freedom of navigation and flight,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said in a statement.