China raps Australia foreign minister ahead of Beijing trip

BEIJING/TOKYO (Reuters) - China rapped Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Tuesday ahead of her visit to Beijing after she said Australia recognized the Philippines’ right to seek arbitration in its dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea.

China claims much of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims.

The Philippines has challenged Beijing at an arbitration court in The Hague over Chinese claims. Beijing has repeatedly and angrily said it will not recognize the case.

Speaking in Tokyo, Bishop said Australia did not take sides on the completing claims in the waters but was awaiting the outcome of the arbitration.

“We recognize the Philippines’ right to seek to resolve the matter through arbitration, but we urge all claimants to settle their disputes peacefully without coercion, without intimidation,” she said.

Asked about the remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he believed Australia “understands” China’s position on the South China Sea.

Hong repeated that China thought the Philippines arbitration case was a contravention of international law and went against the consensus Beijing and Manila have had on the issue.

“China certainly will not accept this. Australia ought not to selectively avoid this reality,” he told a daily news briefing.

Bishop also said she will seek clarification from China about how it intends to use its reclaimed islands in the South China Sea, including whether Beijing intends to grant access to other countries.

“In the past (Chinese) Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said they will be public goods, so I am seeking more detail as to how other nations could access these public goods,” Bishop said of the islands.

“Depending upon the answer he gives, we will look at the situation,” she told reporters in Tokyo, where she met Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida.

Bishop, who will fly to Beijing later on Tuesday for talks with Wang and other Chinese officials, would not say whether Australia would seek access to the islands

Hong said China’s building on the islands was for its own defense, as well as providing facilities for the international community to carry out search and rescue operations.

It will not affect freedom of navigation or overflight, he added.

“We hope Australia can adopt an objective, fair and impartial position and not do anything to harm regional peace and stability,” Hong said.

Beijing has asserted its claim in the region with island building projects that have reclaimed more than 2,900 acres (1,170 hectares) of land since 2013, according to the Pentagon.

It tested for the first time last month a 3,000-metre runway built on a reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef by landing several civilian airliners from Hainan island.

China has accused Washington of seeking maritime hegemony in the name of freedom of navigation after a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island in the Paracel chain of the South China Sea in late January.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Tim Kelly; Editing by Paul Tait and Simon Cameron-Moore