Thu, Jul 14, 2016 - Page 1 News List

Don’t make South China Sea ‘cradle of war’: PRC

AFP, BEIJING

Philippine and Japanese coast guard personnel conduct a drill on board a Philippine Coast Guard boat during their annual anti-piracy exercise in the waters off Manila Bay yesterday.

Photo: AFP

China warned its rivals yesterday against turning the South China Sea into a “cradle of war” and threatened to establish an air defense identification zone after its claims to the strategically vital waters were declared invalid.

The surprisingly strong and sweeping ruling by a UN-backed tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, provided powerful diplomatic ammunition to the Philippines, which filed the challenge, and other claimants in their decades-long disputes with China over the resource-rich waters.

China reacted furiously to Tuesday’s decision, insisting it had historical rights over the sea, while launching a volley of thinly veiled warnings at the US and other critical nations.

“Do not turn the South China Sea into a cradle of war,” Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Zhenmin (劉振民) told reporters in Beijing, describing the ruling as waste paper.

Liu also said China had “the right” to establish an air defense identification zone over the sea, which would give the Chinese military authority over foreign aircraft.

A similar zone set up in 2013 in the East China Sea riled Japan, the US and its other allies.

“Whether we need to set up one in the South China Sea depends on the level of threat we receive,” Liu said. “We hope other countries will not take the chance to blackmail China.”

Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai (崔天凱) was even more blunt.

“It will certainly intensify conflicts and even confrontation,” Cui said in Washington on Tuesday.

The Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, said that China was prepared to take “all measures necessary” to protect its interests.

China justifies its sovereignty claims by saying it was the first to have discovered, named and exploited the sea, and outlines its claims for most of the waterway using a vague map made up of nine dashes that emerged in the 1940s.

Those claims overlap with those of Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

Manila, under former Philippine president Benigno Aquino III, launched the legal case in 2013 after China took control of the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), a rich fishing ground within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and far away from the nearest major Chinese landmass.

China has also built giant artificial islands capable of hosting military installations and airstrips in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), one of the biggest groups of features in the sea.

Aside from stating that China’s historical rights were without “legal basis,” the tribunal ruled that its artificial island building and the blocking of Philippine fishermen at Scarborough Shoal were unlawful.

Manila declined to celebrate the verdict.

“We have to be magnanimous in victory,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay told reporters. “In very delicate matters like this you cannot be provocative in statements. We urge everybody, including China, to exercise restraint and sobriety.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he wants to improve relations with China and that he would seek Chinese investment for major infrastructure projects.

He is open to direct talks with China aimed at achieving a code of conduct among rival claimants to the South China Sea. China has long wanted to negotiate directly and analysts said dialogue rather than conflict was the most likely scenario.

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