China

South China Sea: China 'has right to set up air defence zone'

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Media captionChina says it may set up a defence zone in the South China Sea, as Michael Bristow reports

A senior Chinese official has said China has the right to set up an air defence zone over territory it claims in the South China Sea.

The statement from Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin comes a day after an international tribunal said there was no legal basis for China's claims.

China has overlapping claims with other countries to reefs and islands across almost all of the South China Sea.

It has already said it will ignore the tribunal's findings.

President Xi Jinping has said China's "territorial sovereignty and marine rights" in the seas will not be affected by the ruling "in any way".

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The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on Tuesday ruled against China in a case brought by the Philippines.

It said China had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights and had caused "severe harm to the coral reef environment" by building artificial islands.


Key points from the tribunal's ruling:

  • The tribunal was set up to consider the role of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, the status of maritime features, and the lawfulness of actions by China that were alleged by the Philippines to violate the UN convention on the law of the sea
  • There were no rulings on sovereignty over land territory or delimiting any national boundaries
  • China refused to accept or participate in the arbitration, which was initiated unilaterally by the Philippines. This was, in itself, no bar to the case proceeding once it was decided the tribunal had jurisdiction and the claim was "well founded in fact and law"

In government paper on the tribunal's findings which was released on Wednesday, China reiterated its claims over the land and maritime territory.

Introducing the paper, Mr Liu told reporters that China would establish an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea "if our security is being threatened".

China set up an ADIZ over similarly disputed territory in the East China Sea in 2013, requiring all aircraft passing through it to follow certain rules, file flight plans and identify themselves.

"Whether we need to set one up in the South China Sea depends on the level of threat we receive," said Mr Liu.

He said he hoped all countries would "work with China to protect the peace and stability of the South China Sea, and not let the South China Sea become the origin of a war".

The ruling is binding but the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no powers of enforcement.

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