China on Thursday continued to defy an arbitral tribunal’s ruling against its claims in the South China Sea, landing civilian aircraft on disputed islands in the region while state-run media referred to the US and Japan as “worrying eunuchs”.
Beijing rejected the ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) that it has no exclusive rights over islands and resources in the South China Sea, saying it was “null and void”. It also warned it could create an air defence zone over the contested waters.
In what appeared to be planned retaliation, China successfully tested two new airfields on the Nansha (Spratly) Islands with civil flights, state media reported. This took the number of airfields in the archipelago open to civil aircraft to three.
“The two flights, an Airbus A319 chartered by China Southern Airlines and a Boeing 737 by Hainan Airlines, both returned to Haikou after a short stay on the reefs,” official news agency Xinhua reported.
“The round trips came one day after a Cessna CE-680 flew to the two reefs to ensure that both airfields are prepared for civil flights,” Xinhua reported, giving more details about the build-up by China on the islands.
“Including the airport on the Yongshu Reef opened in January, China now has three functioning airports on the Nansha Islands, which lie under one of the world’s busiest airspaces,” it said.
Besides the airports, there are four multi-purpose lighthouses on as many reefs and the construction of a fifth on Meiji Reef is nearing completion, according to the transportation ministry.
State-controlled media continued to castigate the US for purportedly manipulating the Philippines, which had approached the PCA, and for destabilising the region.
An editorial in the nationalist tabloid Global Times stood out for its use of language that usually doesn’t get into print. It said the US and Japan were more worried than the Philippines, whose attitude was “relatively mild” after the tribunal’s ruling on Tuesday.
The editorial said the Philippines had described the ruling as a “milestone decision” and called for restraint. “An old Chinese saying goes ‘The emperor doesn’t worry but his eunuch does,’ meaning the outsider is more anxious than the player. In this case, Washington and Tokyo are the worrying eunuchs,” the editorial added.
It said: “It should be noticed that the arbitration tribunal is not a permanent court for arbitration, but a temporary institution for the South China Sea case established against the spirit of international law. It also has nothing to do with the UN.”
A post on the UN’s Chinese microblog saying the body has nothing to do with the PCA was another point repeatedly emphasised by the Chinese government and state media.
The UN said on Wednesday the PCA “operated out of the same building, the Peace Palace, as the UN’s primary justice branch, the International Court of Justice, but the two agencies were unrelated”.
China was quick to latch on to the microblog post.
“We have noted the reports, which showed that the temporary arbitration tribunal is not an international tribunal. It has no legitimacy. The award given is not authoritative,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news briefing on Thursday.
“In fact, the PCA in The Hague just happens to be the neighbor of the International Court of Justice, both located in the Peace Palace in The Hague in the Netherlands,” Xinhua reported.
“On the other side, the PCA, established in 1899, writes on its official website that ‘unlike the International Court of Justice’, the PCA ‘has no sitting judges’ and its sessions ‘are held in private and are confidential’.”