In Manila, Australia's top diplomat hits China

MANILA, Philippines – Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop criticized China on Thursday, March 16, for the Asian giant's island-building activities in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

"Australia opposes the scale of reclamation and reconstruction that has occurred, and we certainly do not support militarization by any party of the islands and the island features in the South China Sea, because it would raise tensions," Bishop said at a forum in Manila.

Bishop had been asked about her views on China's reported militarization activities in the South China Sea. She was speaking at a forum organized by the Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ADRI), as part of her trip to the Philippines from March 15 to 17.

Bishop explained that Australia wants "to see a deescalation of tensions in the region." She did not explicitly mention China, but it is China that has been criticized worldwide for its island-building activities.

At the same time, Australia's top diplomat also said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) "should drive for an enforceable code of conduct" in the South China Sea.

"Given the arbitration has set out some very clear recommendations and findings, that can form the basis of a code of conduct (COC)," she said. 

The Philippines, which is chairing ASEAN this year, earlier said the regional bloc aims to finish a framework COC by this year.  

Bishop said: "I believe there's a discussion to conclude a framework with China this year. I would urge ASEAN and the Philippines' leadership to go further and conclude a code of conduct as soon as possible. 

At the same forum on Thursday, Bishop urged ASEAN to use its "moral voice" to maintain peace in the region. She said, "Ten voices are more compelling than one." –

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at