China could set up an air defence zone in the South China Sea (SCS) if it feels threatened, a top official said on Wednesday, a day after a UN-backed tribunal ruled the country had no historic rights over islands in the contested region.
An arbitral tribunal set up by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PAC) in The Hague ruled that China had violated the sovereign rights of the Philippines and caused harm to the coral reef environment. A belligerent China dismissed the verdict, calling the tribunal “illegal” and the ruling “null and void”.
Vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin told a news conference that China has the right to set up an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea if “our security is being threatened”.
“Whether we need to set one up in the South China Sea depends on the level of threat we receive,” Liu said.
Setting up an ADIZ would mean that international flights flying over the waters would be required to notify China. Liu spoke while releasing a white paper explaining China’s position on the South China Sea disputes.
China had set up an ADIZ over the East China Sea in 2013, prompting angry reactions from the US and Japan, though the zone was not fully enforced.
Reacting to India’s call for parties involved in disputes in the South China Sea to abide by international law to ensure calm in the region, the Chinese foreign ministry said it agreed with the opinion.
“In those public statements made by relevant governments, if it is said that the dispute should be resolved by fully complying with the international law, I think it is the same with what Chinese government is upholding,” foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said when he was asked to react to India’s statement.
In an attack against the tribunal that gave the ruling on the South China Sea, Chinese officials indicated the panel could have been bribed. They said it was financed by the former government of the Philippines.
Quoting vice foreign minister Liu, Lu Kang said the tribunal was “financially supported by the former Philippines government. It is not the same as the International Court of Justice or the United Nations. These judicial organs are supported by the UN. But things (in the tribunal) are different. I believe it will be helpful to make that clear.”
The white paper explaining China’s position dismissed the Philippines’ claim on several islands and reefs.
“The Philippines' territorial claim over part of Nansha Qundao is groundless from the perspectives of either history or international law,” said the document issued by the State Council Information Office.
It noted that the then government of the Philippines had unilaterally initiated arbitration on the South China Sea dispute in 2013.
“By doing so, the Philippines has violated its standing agreement with China to settle the relevant disputes through bilateral negotiation, has violated China's right to choose means of dispute settlement of its own will as a state party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and has abused the UNCLOS dispute settlement procedures,” it said.
“The arbitral tribunal established at the Philippines' unilateral request has no jurisdiction over relevant submissions, and awards rendered by it are null and void and have no binding force,” it added.
The policy paper said: “China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards. China does not accept or recognise those awards. China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards.”
Releasing the paper, Liu said he hoped all countries would “work with China to protect the peace and stability of the South China Sea, and not let the South China Sea become the origin of a war”.
The state media, meanwhile, said the US was behind the tribunal’s decision and was hatching a conspiracy.
“The timing of the announcement totally reflected the US calculations as June 30 was the date that the new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was to be sworn in. Picking this date to announce the verdict represents no more than a backing up of the new Philippine government, a move that the US hopes will minimise the possible improvement between China-Philippine relations,” said an editorial in the state media.
It added: “The US actions near China, particularly those on the South China Sea issues, are part of its Asia-Pacific rebalance strategies. Its intentions are no more than containing China to preserve its interests in the Asia-Pacific region and its global hegemony.
“The US motives are apparent to the world, especially to the Chinese people. The current China is nothing like the country it was one hundred years ago. Any act that tries to violate China's territorial sovereignty will fail.”