China warns of an air defence zone in the South China Sea

European Council President Donald Tusk, (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photo before a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Tuesday. At the meeting, Mr. Xi said that “China will not accept any proposition or action based on the decision on Tuesday by the South China Sea arbitral tribunal."  

China on Wednesday said it could establish a military Air Defence Zone in the South China Sea (SCS), but combined its hardening position on the ruling by an international tribunal on the SCS, with a fresh offer of a dialogue with the Philippines.

China’s offer for diplomatic engagement with the new government in Manila -- from a position of strength -- followed a firm rejection by President Xi Jinping, of Tuesday’s ruling by the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague. In remarks paraphrased by Xinhua news agency, Mr. Xi said that “China will not accept any proposition or action based on the decision on Tuesday by the South China Sea arbitral tribunal.” Mr. Xi made these observations during a Tuesday afternoon meeting with the visiting European Council President Donald Tusk.

‘ADIZ option on the table’

The contentious mood spilled into a crowded media conference on Wednesday morning. Asked to comment on whether establishing an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) could be part of China’s response to the ruling, Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said that the option was on table. "On whether China will set up an air defence zone over the SCS, what we have to make clear first is that China has the right to... But whether we need one in the SCS depends on the level of threats we face," he observed. The imposition of an ADIZ would require overflying planes to first notify China.

By Wednesday afternoon state-media was reporting that civilian aircraft had landed on two new airports in the disputed Spratly islands in the SCS, reinforcing Beijing’s rejection of the ruling.

Chinese state-media also railed against the award by the judicial tribunal, which rejected the legality of the Beijing-backed nine-dash demarcation line — the basis of China’s claim to most of the waters of the SCS.

Defiance, nationalistic overtones

Defiance and strong nationalistic overtones resonated in Wednesday’s front-paged commentary in the People’s Daily, the flagship of the Communist Party of China (CPC). “We will not lay claim on even an inch of land that does not belong to us, but neither will we give up even the tiniest parcel of our territory,” observed the commentary.

Chinese officials also went into overdrive to rubbish the credibility of the tribunal at Hague. Mr. Liu, the Vice-Foreign Minister, questioned the competence of the judges on the tribunal, pointing out that none of them were Asian, and their understanding of the nuances of the issue was questionable.

In his afternoon briefing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, elaborating on the remarks by the Vice-Foreign Minister, cast serious aspersions on the impartiality of the panel. He asserted that “the arbiter tribunal was financially supported by the former Philippines government,” sharply contrasting it with the International Court of Justice, also situated in The Hague, which was funded by the United Nations.

Some channels see U.S. ‘Pivot of Asia’ cover

Other Chinese media channels stressed that the entire episode was a cover to enforce the US' “Pivot of Asia” or Rebalance strategy, aimed at the containment of China. A shrill editorial in the state-run tabloid Global Times on Wednesday warned that if the tribunal’s award was implemented, “China would be left with only a few isolated spots in the Nansha (Spratly) Islands without entitlement to any EEZ and could even be deprived of sovereignty of the waters surrounding the islands and islets.”

Yet Mr. Liu was emphatic in pointing to China’s readiness to engage with the Philippines in a fresh round of talks. He stressed that a diplomatic resolution of disputes between China and the Philippines in the SCS through negotiations was the core theme of the White Paper that the Chinese government had released on Wednesday morning.

His call was reciprocated in Manila, where Charles Jose, a spokesman for the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs, was quoted as saying that that the tribunal’s ruling can serve “as a foundation on which we can start the process of negotiations which hopefully will eventually lead to the peaceful settlement of the maritime dispute in the SCS.”

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 4:35:23 PM |

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