Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Australia's double standard over territorial disputes

By Wang Hui (China Daily) Updated: 2016-09-09 07:47

Australia's double standard over territorial disputes

A ferry and recreational boats pass in front of the Sydney Opera House September 28, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]

The disputes between Australia and its smaller neighbor East Timor over maritime boundaries could serve as a useful lens for others to see through the double standard of some Western countries.

On Aug 29, Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the Attorney General George Brandis said in a joint statement that Australia will argue that an arbitration body in The Hague has no jurisdiction to settle a dispute with East Timor over their maritime boundary, adding that Australia did not consider its final report would be binding.

The statement was issued the same day a conciliation commission was due to hear an arbitration case initiated by East Timor against Australia in The Hague over the disputed Timor Sea.

To cut a long story short, the feud between Australia and East Timor stems from the latter's attempt to renegotiate maritime boundaries with Australia in the Timor Sea, which is abundant in oil and natural gas reserves. Over the years, Australia has allegedly resorted to malpractice, such as spying, to gain commercial profits from a bilateral gas deal.

It is not uncommon for countries to have maritime demarcation disputes. Yet, what is uncommon in the Australia-East Timor dispute is the sharp difference between Australia's attitude towards its own maritime dispute and toward the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

Soon after an arbitral tribunal in The Hague handed down its ruling in favor of the Philippines in the South China Sea arbitration case on July 12, Australia joined a chorus led by the United States to press China to accept the ruling, giving a deaf year to China's stance that the arbitral tribunal had no jurisdiction over the case.

The two sets of disputes bear a lot of similarities: Both involve a big country with a smaller neighbor; the two smaller countries have unilaterally brought the disputes to arbitration; there is a bilateral agreement in place in both cases which shores up peaceful resolutions to maritime disputes.

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