China attacks international court after South China Sea ruling

by Tom Phillips, July 13, 2016.

Photograph: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Beijing warns of possible military escalation after UN tribunal
overwhelmingly rejects its claims to ownership of strategic waterway.

Beijing has criticised an international court’s stinging rejection of its territorial claims in the South China Sea,
with Communist party-controlled newspapers warning of a military
escalation in response to what they denounced as a US ploy to thwart
China’s rise. 

One day after a UN tribunal ruled overwhelmingly against Chinese claims to huge swaths of the strategically important waterway, Beijing rebuffed the verdict, calling it “a piece of paper that is destined to come to naught”

In a 13,900-word white paper, Beijing claimed the Philippines,
which brought the case, had “distorted facts, misinterpreted laws and
concocted a pack of lies” in order to undermine Chinese interests.

The ruling against China had been based on “woefully weak pieces of evidence”, the white paper fumed, according to a copy of the text published by Xinhua, Beijing’s official news agency.

A front page commentary
in the Communist party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily,
continued the offensive, dismissing the tribunal as “a lackey of some
outside forces” that would be remembered “as a laughing stock in human

“We do not claim an inch of land that does not belong to us, but we won’t give up any patch that is ours,” the newspaper said, adding: “China, of course, will not accept such downright political provocations.”

The China
Daily, Beijing’s English-language mouthpiece, claimed the “outrageously
one-sided ruling” meant military confrontation in the region had become
more likely.

“With military activity reaching unprecedented levels in the South
China Sea, there is no guarantee that an escalating war of words will
not transform into something more,” it said.

The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid that is controlled by the
People’s Daily and is known for its inflammatory rhetoric, was even more

Further political or military pressure from the US – which Beijing has accused of masterminding the case against its claims in the South China Sea – would lead the Chinese people to “firmly support our government to launch a tit-for-tat counterpunch”, it warned.

Liu Zhenmin, China’s vice-foreign minister, said Beijing reserved the
right to declare an air defence identification 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 said, adding that China hoped to return to
bilateral talks with Manila.

“We hope that other countries don’t use this opportunity to threaten
China, and hope that other countries can work hard with China, meet us
halfway, and maintain the South China Sea’s peace and stability, and not
turn the South China Sea in a source of war,” Liu said.

Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic
and International Studies, said she expected an aggressive response from

“It’s my view that this has been a real loss of face for Xi Jinping
and that he will be under tremendous domestic pressure [to respond],”
she said.

“I think [Xi] will see that the world is ganging up on China and he
will believe that the United States has manipulated this ruling. I can’t
see him compromising on this … I think in the final months of the Obama
administration we could see some very assertive, destabilising actions
by China.”

Nick Bisley, an international relations professor from La Trobe
University in Melbourne, said that for all China’s frustration at the
ruling he believed a military “counterpunch” was unlikely.

“Beijing will probably have been a little surprised by the extent to
which it lost … [But] if you were going to get a really hot response
from Beijing the first thing you would see is a manufactured protest
saying ‘You have offended the feelings of the Chinese people’ and that
doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Bisley said he did not envisage “a particularly provocative or
reactive” response from China unless pressure from the US meant its
leaders felt obliged to hit back to avoid looking weak before a domestic
audience. “The real issue is that the regime doesn’t want to look bad