SYDNEY – Australian Defense Minister David Johnston has backed comments by his United States counterpart, Chuck Hagel, accusing China of “destabilizing” actions in the South China Sea.
Speaking in Singapore on Saturday, Hagel accused China of a number of alleged infractions, including against the Philippines and Vietnam, the two most vocal critics of Beijing’s territorial claims.
“In recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing , unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea,” the U.S. Secretary of Defense told the annual “Shangri-La Dialogue.”
In opening the forum, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged countries to respect the rule of law, in apparent reference to perceived Chinese aggression in the South and East China seas.
Johnston told the Sydney Morning Herald, in an interview from Singapore published Monday, that he supported their view.
“The U.S., Australia and Japan are very concerned that unilateral action is destabilizing the region of the South China Sea particularly, and the East China Sea.”
Asked whether he supported Hagel’s comments, the Australian minister said: “I do to the extent that it is destabilizing . . . in a previously very successful region that has been able to deliver enormous amounts of prosperity to countries in the Asia-Pacific.
“This instability is unwarranted and quite damaging to the future economic prospects. So I do share Secretary Hagel’s concerns.”
Johnston said that Australia did not take sides in territorial disputes between China and other countries, but said Canberra would attempt to persuade the Asian superpower there was “another path.”
His office confirmed that the remarks were his.
China has denounced Hagel’s “provocative” comments along with those of Abe.