Australia has called on China not to establish a proprietary air zone in South China Sea. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said it would only add to the tensions between China and other Asian countries involved in the territorial dispute.

“The Asean countries have been discussing this and I believe they’ve made their position quite plain that they would be deeply concerned if there was any attempt to impose an air defence identification zone over the South China Sea,” said Bishop in a recent interview at Canberra. China has claimed it has reserved the right to establish an air zone while it is creating artificial islands in the shipping and fishing areas disputed by countries like the Philippines and Vietnam.

China’s declaration of a possible air zone in late 2013 has sparked a response from Australia, Japan and the U.S., reports Bloomberg. The Philippines said its patrol aircraft had been warned by China to stop flying over the Spratly island area. The Philippine government is particularly concerned since Chinese vessels have prevented Filipino fishermen from entering waters China has claimed as its own. The Australian foreign minister said she has talked to senior officials in China and urged them to refrain from taking an action to raise tensions.

The warnings were expected to escalate tensions in the South China Sea. Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, believes that if China sets up an air defence identification zone, the move will be seen by regional countries as a “severe violation of freedom” in terms of navigation and fuel concerns.

Bishop said Australia’s important trade routes are through the Indian Ocean and the north. She added that the government supports a peaceful resolution of disputes. Japan Times had indicated that China has built an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef big enough to support the aircraft of the People’s Liberation army. Satellite photos showed dredgers reclaiming land in some areas, according to IHS Jane.

China may be Australia’s largest trading partner but Bishop had called for China’s ambassador in November 2013 to express her concerns over the building of an East China Sea air zone. Bishop said Australia did not take sides in territorial disputes. “What we do plead with countries is to negotiate peacefully any territorial or maritime claims that they have,” said Bishop.

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