5:59:00 PM

FOREIGN Minister Julie Bishop has raised concerns about how China would react to any Australian Naval deployment in the South China Sea contested territories.

In recent months, there have been high-level discussions between Turnbull Government senior ministers and department heads about what Australia’s stance should be in dealing with the South China Sea territorial disputes.

The discussions came as a mini armada of six Australian Navy ships sail north in the Indo-Pacific ­region and towards the South China Sea, to conduct military exercises in the biggest task-group deployment in more than 30 years.
During recent high-level discussions about Australia’s strategic options in the western ­Pacific, Ms Bishop and senior officials at DFAT are understood to have queried how any deployment near the contested waters would be received and interpreted by China.

However, it is understood that they were not opposed to exercises being conducted in the region.

The exercises are a show of resolve intended to maintain Australia’s presence in the western Pacific.

While Chinese state-owned media has been highly critical of the ­deployment, the Defence Department told The Daily Telegraph China had not raised the matter with Australia through diplomatic channels. The Turnbull government strongly reiterated its support for the rights of any nation to sail through the contested territories.
“This is part of what the Australian navy does,” she said in New York outside the UN headquarters.

Foreign policy expert Greg Sheridan said the fact the Turnbull government had not ruled out sailing within 12 nautical miles of artificial Chinese islands would agitate China in itself and was a “brave move.”

Ms Bishop declined to ­respond to questions from The Daily Telegraph about any concerns she raised in high-level discussions. But she told Sky News the military exercises had been planned for some time.


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