China has insisted on its right to declare an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea as it intensified attacks on an arbitral tribunal that ruled against its maritime claims in the waterway.
Speaking at a press briefing yesterday on the release of a White Paper on handling China's dispute with the Philippines, Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said China had "the right" to establish an ADIZ over the sea, like it did over the East China Sea in 2013.
"Whether we need one in the South China Sea depends on the level of threats we face. If our security is under threat, of course we have the right to declare one," he said.
Mr Liu, however, added that China's goal is not to turn the South China Sea into a "source of war" but a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation and hoped that other countries would work together with it.
The United Nations-backed tribunal on Tuesday ruled on an arbitration case brought by the Philippines against China's expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea. The findings largely favoured Manila.
Among the most aggressive of China's responses predicted by analysts in the event of an unfavourable ruling was the establishment of an ADIZ, which would give China authority over foreign aircraft and could affect freedom of overflight.
But an ADIZ was not among options listed by Chinese foreign policy and defence experts in local media reports yesterday. Instead, they said measures that the government could consider include stepping up South China Sea military deployment, withdrawing from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and deepening dialogue with other claimant states to dissuade them from emulating Manila.
Besides the rhetoric, China yesterday conducted test flights, with civilian aircraft, from Hainan province to airfields on Mischief Reef and Zhubi Reef in the disputed Spratlys.
Analysts like Renmin University analyst Jin Canrong told the Global Times tabloid yesterday that China will have to be prepared for a sustained public opinion battle against the United States and its allies like Japan over the ruling.
The battle has begun, with Mr Liu yesterday attacking the credibility of the tribunal - accusing the five judges of taking money from the Philippines and being manipulated by a Japanese judge who appointed four of the judges - to show why China should not have to accept or abide by its decision.
He said the judges are unlike those on the International Court of Justice whose salaries are paid by the UN to ensure independence and impartiality.
"These five are salaried judges. They are taking money from the Philippines. Maybe they are also taking money from others; it's not clear to us," he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also told reporters at a routine briefing yesterday that the Philippine government had paid money for the tribunal's work.
Mr Liu also questioned whether the judges - four are European and one a long-time European resident - understood the South China Sea issue and its underlying geopolitics enough to make a fair ruling.
Still, Mr Liu yesterday extended an olive branch to the Philippines and Asean, saying the ruling has hurt the legal effect of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) between Asean and China.
The non-binding pact states that claimant states should resolve disputes through friendly consultations and negotiations.
China remains committed to implementing the DOC and drafting a legally binding Code of Conduct, and to beefing up cooperation with the grouping, added Mr Liu.
He also trotted out promises such as the joint development of resources in a bid to coax Manila into setting aside the ruling and resuming bilateral talks to resolve the dispute.