Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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Australia Must Conduct Own FONOPs of the South China Sea, says Former Defense Chief

Mischief Reef

Illegal Chinese structures on Mischief Reef, which was seized by China from the Philippines.

Dennis Richardson, who retired as Australia's Secretary of the Department of Defense two weeks ago, asserts Australia must actively challenge China's claim to own practically the entire South China Sea by having the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) conduct its own freedom of navigation operation patrols (FONOPs) on waters around the artificial islands built by China.

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He also said Australia should not tacitly accept the legitimacy of China's man-made islands in the South China Sea.

A few days before he retired on May 12 after a 48-year government career, Richardson also revealed that China's espionage operations against Australia conducted by Chinese nationals living in Australia are extensive and have risen significantly.

Richardson has eminent credentials in national security, having been Director-General of Security of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) from October 1996 to 2005.

ASIO is Australia's equivalent of the U.S. FBI. It's responsible for the protection of Australia and its citizens from espionage, sabotage, acts of foreign interference, politically motivated violence, attacks on the Australian defense system and terrorism.

"I think at some point, we should (conduct FONOPs)... What that point is, being a good old public servant, I'd leave it to the government," he said in support of an Australian FONOPs.

Richardson said Australia shouldn't carry out the naval operations recklessly but should send the clear signal that it did not regard China's claims as lawful.

"You don't say anything in advance. You just do it," he pointed out.

"And you don't have to do it all the time. If you picked your time and did it in the right way, I think that is a sensible thing to do."

He said the Law of Sea is "very clear" in that man-made features such as those built by China can't generate a 12 nautical mile claim to waters around them.

"And for China to create artificial features more than 1,000 kilometers from their own coastline and then want to claim territorial sea around them is not something that we should by implication accept," he said.

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