Published On: Fri, Aug 23rd, 2019

South China Sea: Australia join forces with Vietnam against China as G7 looms | World | News

Beijing has been accused of aggressively encroaching on other nations in the South China Sea in recent months. President Xi Jinping has had disputes with both Australia and Vietnam this month – but the two appear to have linked up to counter their common adversary. The decision comes just a day before the likes of Japan and the US will meet at the G7 summit – with China likely to be on the agenda.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc welcomed Australian leader Scott Morrison to Hanoi in the first visit since the nations agreed a “strategic partnership” earlier this year.

Following crunch talks over the Chinese threat, he said: “We are deeply concerned about the recent complicated developments in the East Sea and agree to cooperate in maintaining peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight.”

‘East Sea’ is a Vietnamese term used for the South China Sea, and is language not welcomed by Beijing.

The development comes despite an ongoing dispute over China’s presence in the Vanguard Bank just off Vietnam’s coast.

South China Sea: Australia and Vietnam team up

South China Sea: Australia and Vietnam team up (Image: GETTY)

South China Sea: Morrison and Phuc

South China Sea: Morrison and Phuc (Image: GETTY)

It is technically part of Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone – a region measuring 200km squared which only Hanoi is entitled to – but Chinese vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 is continuing to survey the area.

It is backed up by seven other Chinese ships, which have themselves been countered by two Vietnamese vessels.

Last Friday Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said: “Vietnam has made contact with China to protest its repeated violations and demanded that China withdraw the vessel group from Vietnamese waters.”

Mr Morrison backed up his new ally and said: “Principles like freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, to ensure nations can pursue the development opportunities which exist within their Exclusive Economic Zone and sea boundaries and can go about that business in a way which is uninhibited.

READ MORE: Australia urged to take key defensive measures against expansionist China

South China Sea: Vietnam President and Xi

South China Sea: Vietnam President and Xi (Image: GETTY)

“It is about ensuring that each and every nation in the region can have confidence in its own independence and sovereignty.

“Australia and Vietnam are friends and, today, to use Australian parlance, we’ve gone from friends to mates.”

South-East Asia expert Ben Bland told The Sydney Morning Herald that the two leaders were keen to strengthen their own grip on the region to balance out China’s rise.

He added: “Yes, there is also a growing trade and economic relationship, of course. But the Vietnamese, in particular, want more partners interested in upholding the current international order in the region.

“That includes the US, Australia, the EU and even Russia.

“China is the subtext. This isn’t a defence dialogue.

“The overt discussions will be trade and economics, and the phrasing will be about maintaining the rules-based international order.”

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South China Sea: Vietnam and Australia agrred a strategic partnership

South China Sea: Vietnam and Australia agrred a strategic partnership (Image: GETTY)

South China Sea: Vietnam and China's relationship has strained

South China Sea: Vietnam and China’s relationship has strained (Image: GETTY)

Their words came just days after the White House called out China for ‘bullying’ behaviour in the region.

National Security Adviser John Bolton said: “China’s recent escalation of efforts to intimidate others out of developing resources in the South China Sea is disturbing.

“The United States stands firmly with those who oppose coercive behaviour and bullying tactics which threaten regional peace and security.”

Vietnam and Australia declared their official partnership last March in a document that committed to deepen “bilateral political cooperation” and security.

Prior to Mr Morrison’s visit to Hanoi, Mr Phuc sent a thinly veiled appraisal of Australia’s attitude towards China’s behaviour in the region.

South China Sea MAPPED

South China Sea MAPPED (Image: EXPRESS)

He said: “Concerning foreign affairs, Australia gives prominence to maintaining regional order based on laws, free trade and economic links while supporting the current regional structure with the central role of ASEAN in the region.”

It comes just weeks after the Australian parliament was embroiled in controversy following a Conservative MP’s comparison of China’s rise to that of Nazi Germany.

Andrew Hastie wrote: “The West once believed that economic liberalisation would naturally lead to democratisation in China.

“This was our Maginot Line. It would keep us safe, just as the French believed their series of steel and concrete forts would guard them against the German advance in 1940. But their thinking failed catastrophically.

“The French had failed to appreciate the evolution of mobile warfare. Like the French, Australia has failed to see how mobile our authoritarian neighbour has become.”

South China Sea: Australia and China have clashed

South China Sea: Australia and China have clashed (Image: GETTY)

Mr Morrison recently rejected placing US missiles in Australia in order to counter China.

Beijing feels it is entitled to 80 percent of the South China Sea – a region they define by the imagined ‘nine-dash line’.

It is targeting control of five nations – Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Hong Kong and Malaysia – according to analysis from

China also has its eye on Scarborough Shoal, the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands.

The first two are claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam respectively, while the Spratly Islands are claimed by five countries – China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

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