Qantas could unwittingly trigger conflict between Australia and China during the current dispute over who controls the South China Sea and its islands, according to an eminent legal expert.
ANU Professor of International Law, Donald Rothwell, warned on ABC News Breakfast that the current dispute over ownership of islands in the South China Sea held risks for Australia.
The worst-case scenario would be a Chinese declaration of an air defence identification zone in the region, Rothwell said, adding that this could “most certainly bring Australia into conflict with China”.
“It would mean that all Australian aircraft passing through the region would need to identify themselves and that would raise significant issues for Qantas, for example, as to how they would respond to that action,” Rothwell said.
The South China Sea is the stage for several territorial disputes.
China has angrily rejected a finding by the international court in The Hague that it has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea. The case was brought by the Philippines.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has stated that Australia will continue to exercise its “international law rights to Freedom of Navigation and overflight, and support the right of others to do so”.
The South China Sea includes chains of barren islands that lie in the midst of huge oil and gas fields and bountiful fishing grounds. Some islands are claimed by no fewer than seven countries, making the region one of the world’s potential flashpoints.
Written by Peter Needham