China may set up air defence zone over South China Sea

China's foreign ministry has termed the Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling on the South China Sea a 'piece of waste paper'.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

China has warned opposing parties "not to turn the South China Sea into a cradle of war" and declared it had a right to set up an air defence zone over the disputed waters.

China's strongly-worded reactions comes just a day after an international tribunal rejected the country's claim over a vast expanse of the strategic South China Sea, ruling that Beijing had no 'legal' or 'historic' claim over the waters.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague also said on Tuesday that China had violated the sovereignty of the Philippines by endangering its ships and fishing and oil projects in the waters.

Apart from China, the South China Sea is also claimed in full or parts by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

An air defence zone in the area would mean civilian aircraft flying over the waters would have to identify themselves to military controllers in order to safely pass through. 

The move to set up the zone could drastically escalate tensions in the region, but China's foreign minister Liu Zhenmin said the country would assess "the level of threat against it" before making a decision.

'A piece of waste paper'

In a press conference on Wednesday, Zhenmin insisted that China's aim was "to turn the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation".

However, he warned opponents to "not turn the South China Sea into a cradle of war."

Liu described the PCA ruling as "a piece of waste paper" at the press conference, alleging the tribunal had been "manipulated".

The five judges who ruled in the case "made money from the Philippines," Liu said, adding "and maybe other people gave them money too".

He stressed that four of the judges were from EU countries, with the Ghanaian chairman a longtime resident of Europe.

"Are these kind of judges representative?" he asked rhetorically. "Do they understand Asian culture?"

Liu was speaking at the launch of a government white paper on the issue.

China was "the first to have discovered, named, and explored and exploited" islands in the sea and their surrounding waters, the document said. Its claim derives from a map drawn in the 1940s that shows a line stretching south from China and encircling almost all of the sea.

It was in direct contradiction to the ruling in The Hague on Tuesday, which said that "there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources".

The UN-backed tribunal also said that any "historic rights" to resources in the waters of the South China Sea were "extinguished" when China signed up to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

As such, it said there was "no legal basis" for China to claim historic rights to resources within its so-called nine-dash line demarcating its territorial claims.

China had no possible entitlement to areas within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, it added.

Fast facts
Why is the South China Sea important?
- More than $5 trillion worth of trade passes through the waters
- The waters hold big reserves of oil and gas underneath the seabed
- The sea provides greater access to fisheries in the region
- Location holds great strategic value

- China, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines

International ruling
Judges at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague on July 13, 2016, rejected China's claims to economic rights across large swathes of the South China Sea in a ruling that was seen as a victory by the Philippines, which had filed the case with the Permanent Court of Arbritation.

In the 497-page ruling, judges also found that Chinese law enforcement patrols had risked colliding with Philippine fishing vessels in parts of the sea and caused irreparable damage to coral reefs with construction work.

TRTWorld and agencies