China warns of air defence zone in South China Sea

No-go zone:Police officers block the road leading to the Philippines Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday, the day after an international court ruled against China in a challenge bythe Phillippines over territory in the South China Sea.— Photo: AFP  

China on Wednesday said it could establish a military air defence zone in the South China Sea, but combined its hardening position with a fresh offer for dialogue with the Philippines.

China’s offer for diplomatic engagement with the new government in Manila followed a firm rejection by President Xi Jinping of Tuesday’s ruling by the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague that Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea had no legal basis.

“China will not accept any proposition or action based on the decision Tuesday by the South China Sea arbitral tribunal”, Mr. Xi said, according to Xinhua news agency. He made these observations during a meeting with the visiting European Council President Donald Tusk on Tuesday. The contentious mood spilled into a crowded media conference on Wednesday morning.

Response to ruling

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 the option was on table. “On whether China will set up an air defence zone over the South China Sea, what we have to make clear first is that China has the right to... But whether we need one in the South China Sea 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 South China Sea, reinforcing Beijing’s rejection of the ruling. Chinese state-media also railed against the ruling by the judicial tribunal. 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 The 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. “The arbiter tribunal was financially supported by the former Philippines government,” he said.