Money may have influenced South China Sea ruling, Beijing says

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PHOTO: Chinese soldiers patrol on Woody Island in the South China Sea (Reuters)

An international court in The Hague ruled on Tuesday that Beijing's claims to a vast swathe of the waters had no legal basis.

Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin released a white paper on Wednesday reiterating China's historical and legal claims to the disputed islands, defiantly ignoring Tuesday's ruling.

But he went further, saying the five judges were out of touch with the issues because they all live in Europe, and then questioning if they were swayed by money.

"These judges are paid, so who's really behind this tribunal," Mr Liu asked at a media conference.

"Who was paying them? Was it the Philippines or some other country?"

He also pointed out that a Permanent Court of Arbitration judge responsible for selecting the five arbitrators was from Japan, China's traditional rival.

Shunji Yanai "manipulated the tribunal" and helped influence the decision, Mr Liu said.

Asked how China would respond to the ruling, Mr Liu said declaring an air defence identification zone — a move experts have warned could lead to potential conflict with countries including Australia — "depends on the degree of threat we're facing", but that Beijing reserves the right to do so.

He also said naval ships would continue to patrol the waters because "the South China Sea belongs to China".

Beijing's claims to the waters — extending almost to the coasts of other littoral states — are enshrined in a "nine-dash line" that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s.

China had "never ceased carrying out activities such as patrolling and law enforcement, resources development and scientific survey" on the islands and in "relevant waters", the white paper said.

But the document is in direct contradiction to the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which said that "there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources".

The UN-backed tribunal also said that any "historic rights" to resources in the waters of the South China Sea were "extinguished" when China signed up to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday that for China to ignore the ruling would constitute a "serious international transgression".

'Conflicts, confrontation' possible, Chinese ambassador says

China's ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, warned the ruling "will certainly intensify conflicts and even confrontation".

"In the end, it will undermine the authority and effectiveness of international law," he added, speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

The envoy also warned that the Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling "will probably open the door of abusing arbitration procedures".

The row has embroiled the United States, which has deployed aircraft carriers and a host of other vessels to assert freedom of navigation in the waters — through which a third of the global oil trade passes.

Criticising the American show of force in the region, Mr Cui warned it could lead to conflict.

"Intensified military activities so close to Chinese islands and reefs or even entering the neighbouring waters of these islands and reefs, these activities certainly have the risk of leading to some conflict," he said.

"I am quite sure they will have the effect of destabilising regional stability.

"If armed conflict started, everybody's interest would be hurt, including our interest and I am sure the interests of the USA."



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