Posts Tagged ‘ASEAN’

China to work with Asean on sea code

March 28, 2017
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua relayed the message to President Duterte during their meeting in Davao City last Monday, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said. Kamuning Bakery Cafe/Released

MANILA, Philippines – China is determined to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the crafting of a framework for the code of conduct for claimants in the South China Sea dispute.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua relayed the message to President Duterte during their meeting in Davao City last Monday, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

“His excellency Zhao expressed China’s determination to work with ASEAN member states in finalizing the Code of Conduct Framework on the South China Sea middle of this year,” Abella said in a statement.

Zhao said China is looking forward to the first meeting on bilateral mechanism for the South China Sea row in May.

“Through this bilateral mechanism, mutual trust and maritime cooperation will be forged and misunderstandings will be avoided,” Abella said.

Hours before the meeting, United States Ambassador Sung Kim called on Duterte to convey his country’s readiness to assist the Philippines in terms of military equipment and training.

“The President said that Philippines-US relations at the bilateral level remain strong and there is readiness to discuss more matters of mutual interest with the US,” he said.

“His Excellency Sung Kim also assured (President Duterte) that the US understands the security concerns of the Philippines and that the US is ready to provide more military equipment, assistance and training,” he added.

Abella said Duterte and Kim agreed that their countries have mutual interests and shared values and that fruitful engagements and discussions are very important “in ensuring that both states are on the same page.”

Duterte and Zhao also discussed the handling of the South China Sea issue, defense cooperation and capacity building, infrastructure projects financing, anti-poverty and the campaign against illegal drugs.

Abella said Zhao assured Duterte that China is ready to implement a cooperation agreement signed by the two countries’ coast guards.

“He (Zhao) looks forward to the Philippine Coast Guard delegation’s visit to China to hammer out actions, activities and new engagements to ensure that South China Sea is a sea of cooperation,” Abella said.

“He is also looking forward to the resumption of bilateral defense cooperation and participation in the One Belt, One Road Summit in Beijing in May 2017,” he added.

Zhao said China is hopeful that the Philippines would soon use its donations for anti-poverty programs and anti-illegal drugs operations.

Duterte also met with Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s foreign affairs and trade minister, and expressed readiness to strengthen bilateral ties between Manila and Budapest.

“The President said that the Philippines is very interested in further strengthening bilateral relations with Hungary in terms of trade and investment and commerce, opening up the Philippine countryside as potential new markets, security cooperation and people-to-people exchanges through scholarship programs,” Abella said.

Szijjárto informed Duterte that Hungary is set to reopen its embassy in the Philippines.

“There will also be constant dialogue and person-to-person exchanges through scholarship programs to Hungary. Citing these areas of cooperation, Szijjártó said he is excited about the upgrade in the Philippines-Hungary cooperation,” Abella said.

Szijjárto said Hungary shares a common vision with the Philippines in the fight against terrorism and illegal migration.

Panatag master plan

Despite an earlier denial of reports that it was building a monitoring station on Panatag Shoal, China actually has a master plan for the full development of the shoal which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, former Parañaque congressman Roilo Golez said yesterday.

Based on the master plan, Beijing is eyeing a 3,000-meter long runway and a harbor on the shoal.

“In our various strategic meetings – that latest was held in Japan – China, it turned out, already has a master plan (for Panatag Shoal),” Golez said in a forum at the Manila Hotel yesterday.  – With Jaime Laude, Paolo Romero

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/03/29/1685665/china-work-asean-sea-code

China Drifts Into a U.S. Vacuum in Asia — “They are really alarmed about Trump.”

March 28, 2017

Beijing builds its influence in Asia by default, not design, as Trump retreats

A staff member prepares for an annual gathering last week of Asia’s elite in Boao on the Chinese island of Hainan.

A staff member prepares for an annual gathering last week of Asia’s elite in Boao on the Chinese island of Hainan. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS

BOAO, China—For more than half a century, Washington has set the economic agenda for the Asia-Pacific, where global wealth, technology and military power are concentrating.

Today, increasingly, Beijing does.

That’s not because its economic model is so widely admired; Deng Xiaoping’s “open door” to global trade and investment is creaking shut under current President Xi Jinping, a hard-line nationalist.

Nor does the country’s political system, brutally focused on self-preservation, have much appeal.

China isn’t even well liked. Domestic repression and trade mercantilism combine these days with a prickly assertiveness overseas. A recent opinion poll in South Korea, the latest target of Beijing’s economic bullying, shows the country has even less affection for its close neighbor than Japan, its historical archenemy.

Rather, China’s advance is being enabled by a factor that few countries in Asia could have foreseen, not even China itself: an American retreat.

With no obvious alternatives, Beijing is filling a vacuum that is rapidly expanding in the early days of the Trump presidency.

But while China dominates its region with the sheer size of its economy, it struggles to lead—or inspire.

Years in the making, the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership was the core of the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia, the product of compromises hammered out in capitals from Tokyo to Canberra, an ambitious—perhaps the last—U.S. effort to shape the destiny of a region that stands at the crossroads of every global trend from fashion to “fintech” and clean energy.

In repudiating that deal, President Donald Trump has empowered China.

The new U.S. administration, says Goh Chok Tong, the former Singapore prime minister, “has taken a step backward.”

At an annual gathering of Asian power brokers on China’s tropical Hainan Island last week, Mr. Goh, one of the region’s most respected elder statesmen, posed an anxious question: “Who will step into the shoes of the U.S. to make sure that we have free trade?”

It is hard for Chinese politicians to sound credible when they proclaim the virtues of globalization—the free flow of ideas, technologies and cultures across borders—from the battlements of the “Great Firewall,” the most extensive barrier in all of cyberspace.

Instead of a U.S.-inspired free-trade deal focused on the digital economy, intellectual property, the environment and labor standards—what Hillary Clinton called the “gold standard,” before turning against it as presidential candidate—China is pushing a lower-grade alternative.

Yet, despite the shortcomings of this incremental effort, known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Asian economies are aligning around it because there’s no better deal on the table.

Neighbors are skeptical that China can build consensus across the region. “Leadership takes humility, humor and flexibility,” says Thomas Lembong, the chairman of the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board, a government agency that seeks to attract foreign investors to the country.

In Mr. Lembong’s view, Asia is headed into a more anarchic future dominated by leaders with strong mandates like India’s Narendra Modi or Japan’s Shinzo Abe. It will be a case of “everybody negotiating with everybody else,” he says. “Some will take the reform route; others will do the reverse and turn protectionist and regressive.”

For now, the main danger is that Mr. Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership will morph into Mr. Trump’s Trans-Pacific trade war.

Mr. Trump has threatened to impose 45% import tariffs on Chinese imports. If he triggers such an action, the effects will ricochet around the entire Asia-Pacific manufacturing supply chain.

A common view in Asia is that the success that the U.S. did so much to encourage is now feeding a backlash.

Having adopted Washington’s economic prescriptions for growth—lower tariff barriers, expansion of market forces and investment in infrastructure —the region has become a lightning rod for the populist resentments of an America still grappling with the effects of the 2008 financial crisis.

The White House chief strategist Steve Bannon laments that “the globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia.”

“The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over,” he told the Hollywood Reporter.

On the one hand, this kind of rhetoric scares the Chinese leadership. “There is deep anxiety,” says Fred Hu, chairman of Primavera Capital Group, a China-based global investment firm, who has advised the Chinese government on financial reform. “They are really alarmed about Trump.”

The angst is shared in a region that feels unmoored as it steadily drifts into Beijing’s orbit, as much by default as by design.

Write to Andrew Browne at andrew.browne@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-drifts-into-a-u-s-vacuum-in-asia-1490695181?tesla=y&mod=e2fb

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South China Sea Update: Philippines and China To Solidify Bilateral Deal in May 2017 — Scarborough Shoal? Depends on who you ask. — ASEAN deal soon…

March 27, 2017

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEIJING — Mar 27, 2017, 4:05 AM ET

A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, home to several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.

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CHINA’S SCARBOROUGH PLANS STILL UNCLEAR — China may or may not be planning to build an environmental monitoring station on the disputed Scarborough Shoal, depending on who you ask.

While the top official in the administrative region covering the island says preparatory work for the station is a priority, the foreign ministry says there is no such plan.

The Philippines, which also claims the shoal, has sought a clarification from Beijing.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said last week that reports about the facility on Scarborough had been checked and were untrue.

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China’s Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying

However, the official Hainan Daily newspaper had earlier quoted Xiao Jie, the top official in Sansha City, as saying that preparatory work on the station was among the government’s top priorities for 2017. Calls to the region’s government seeking clarification have rung unanswered.

Such a move would likely renew concerns among Beijing’s neighbors over its assertive territorial claims in the strategically crucial South China Sea.

Beijing seized tiny, uninhabited Scarborough in 2012 after a tense standoff with Philippine vessels.

China’s construction and land reclamation work in the South China Sea have drawn strong criticism from the U.S. and others, who accuse Beijing of further militarizing the region and altering geography to bolster its claims. China says the seven man-made islands in the disputed Spratly group, complete with their airstrips and military installations, are mainly for civilian purposes.

Prior to the announcement, South China Sea tensions had eased somewhat after Beijing erupted in fury last year following an international arbitration tribunal ruling on a case filed by the Philippines. The verdict invalidated China’s sweeping territorial claims and determined that China had violated the rights of Filipinos to fish at Scarborough Shoal.

China has since allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the shoal following an improvement in ties between the countries, but it does not recognize the tribunal’s ruling as valid.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have long contested ownership of the South China Sea, which straddles one of the world’s busiest sea lanes and is believed to sit atop vast deposits of oil and gas.

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CHINA’S PREMIER REASSURES ON FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION, OVERFLIGHT — On a visit to Australia, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang offered reassurances on the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

Li, China’s second ranked official, said China would work with Australia to ensure freedom of navigation in distributed regions.

China will “never seek hegemony and dominance,” Li said, adding China needed a stable world environment to grow its economy.

Li was welcomed to Parliament House by a 19-gun salute and distant protest chants of anti-China demonstrators who were kept well away from the Chinese leader.

While Australia does not take an active participant in the South China Sea disputes, it is a close security partner of the United States, while also relying on China as its biggest export market. During Li’s visit, he and Turnbull oversaw the signing of agreements that will expand their 2-year-old free trade pact. China also agreed to expand its market for Australian beef exporters.

Turnbull rejected arguments that Australia must choose between the U.S. and China, despite growing tensions between the economic superpowers.

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PHL, China to discuss South China Sea bilateral mechanism in May

Published March 27, 2017 10:54pm
The Philippines and China are expected to discuss the bilateral mechanism on the South China Sea issue this coming May, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a Monday statement.
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Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, in his courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte in Davao City, had said that China had been looking forward to discussing the matter with the Philippines.
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 Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left) shakes hands with China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua, last August. Photo: EPA
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“He conveyed that China looked forward to the convening, in May 2017, of the first meeting of the bilateral mechanism set up to properly handle the SCS issue,” explained Abella. “Through this bilateral mechanism, mutual trust and maritime cooperation will be forged and misunderstandings will be avoided.”
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Zhao had also said that China was determined to work with ASEAN member states in finalizing the Code of Conduct Framework on the South China Sea mid-2017.
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The Chinese ambassador also mentioned the successful meeting between Philippine and Chinese Coast Guard committees, and China’s readiness to implement the agreed memorandum of understanding signed during Duterte’s Beijing visit last October.
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“He (Zhao) looks forward to the Philippine Coast Guard delegation’s visit to China to hammer out actions, activities and new engagements to ensure that SCS is a sea of cooperation,” Abella added.
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Additionally, the Chinese ambassador looked forward to the resumption of bilateral defense cooperation between the two nations.
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Aside from the South China Sea, Zhao and Duterte also discussed infrastructure projects and anti-poverty programs.
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“H.E. Zhao hoped that the infrastructure projects in the pipeline will soon be launched, implemented, and completed within the term of PRRD,” said Abella. “H.E. Zhao reported that China hopes for PH to soon utilize donations for anti-poverty programs and anti-illegal drugs operations.” — DVM, GMA News
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Related (Incliding East China Sea):
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South China Sea: One of the World’s Biggest Fisheries Is on the Verge of Collapse

March 26, 2017

South China Sea’s most important resource – its fish – is disappearing

Major disputes in the South China Sea are putting critical habitat—and the food supply of millions—at risk.

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Dock workers use cranes to off-load frozen tuna from a Chinese-owned cargo vessel at the General Santos Fish Port, in the Philippines. Tuna stocks in the South China Sea have plummeted in recent years because of overfishing. Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

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By Rachael Bale
National Geographic
PUBLISHED AUGUST 29, 2016

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PUERTO PRINCESA, PHILIPPINES — Years ago Christopher Tubo caught a 660-pound blue marlin in the South China Sea. The fishing was good there, he says. Tuna fishermen would come home from a trip with dozens of the high-value fish as well as a good haul of other species.

“Here there’s none of that,” he says, looking toward the Sulu Sea, the Philippine sea where he’s been fishing for the past four years. His two boats, traditional Filipino outriggers called bancas, float in the shallow water nearby, new coats of white paint drying in the sun.

Tubo is sitting on a wooden bench in front of his home, which perches on stilts above the bay. One of his four kids wraps an arm around his leg. Worn T-shirts and shorts flutter on clotheslines behind them.


A worker carries a line-caught yellowfin tuna at the General Santos Fish Port, which is known as the “tuna capital of the Philippines.” The South China Sea, through which tuna migrate, produces more fish than almost anywhere else, but it has been severely overfished and is nearing collapse. Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic
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Glancing over at his wife, Leah, and the other children, he says, “It’s just chance, whether or not we can feed our families now.”

Tubo lives in Puerto Princesa, a city of 255,000 on Palawan, a long finger of an island that faces the Sulu Sea and the Philippine archipelago to the east and the contested South China Sea to the west. He’s one of the nearly 320,000 fishermen in the Philippines who have traditionally made their livelihoods from the South China Sea—and one of a growing number who are now fishing in other waters because of increasing Chinese interference. Beginning around 2012, China adopted a more assertive posture in the sea’s long-running territorial dispute, building military installations on contested islands and increasingly using its coast guard to intimidate fishermen from other countries.

It was after a Chinese coast guard vessel attacked a friend’s fishing boat with water cannons that Christopher Tubo stopped fishing the South China Sea.

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Filipino fishermen aboard the Ninay haul in sardines and scad in national waters near the South China Sea. The territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea have increased competition for dwindling fish stocks of all species.  Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic
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“One minute you’ll see an airplane, the next thing there’s a naval boat,” he says, describing how the Chinese attempt to keep fishermen from other countries out of the disputed area. “If we kept going over there, maybe we won’t be able to go home to our families.”

“As they see it, it’s theirs now, and Filipinos are forbidden,” says Henry Tesorio, an elected councilor for a fishing village in Puerto Princesa.

Vietnamese fishermen could say the same thing. Some 200 Vietnamese from the island of Ly Son, 15 miles (24 kilometers) off the mainland, reported being attacked by Chinese boats in 2015, according to local Vietnamese government officials.


The lights on the Melissa attract fish toward the boat and up to the surface. A storm later forced the boat to return to Quezon, a fishing village on the island of Palawan, in the Philippines. Fishermen from the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, and elsewhere all fish the South China Sea.  Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

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Tubo’s decision not to fish in the South China Sea speaks to the rising tensions in the region, which are causing fierce competition for natural resources. Encompassing 1.4 million square miles (3.7 million square kilometers), the South China Sea is of critical economic, military, and environmental importance: $5.3 trillion in international trade plies its waters annually; in terms of biodiversity, it is thought of as the marine equivalent of the Amazon rain forest; and its fish provide food and jobs for millions in the 10 countries and territories that surround it.

Of those, seven—China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia—have competing claims to the sea’s waters and resources. So it’s understandable why all eyes have been focused on the political and military wrangling. If war broke out over these claims, it would pit two superpowers, China and the United States—a longtime Philippine ally and guarantor of freedom of navigation in the Pacific Ocean—against each other.

South China Sea map. Credit Center for Strategic and International Studies

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But another less publicized, also potentially disastrous, threat looms in the South China Sea: overfishing. This is one of the world’s most important fisheries, employing more than 3.7 million people and bringing in billions of dollars every year. But after decades of free-for-all fishing, dwindling stocks now threaten both the food security and economic growth of the rapidly developing nations that draw on them.

China argues that it has a right to almost the entire South China Sea because it says it has historically exercised jurisdiction in that area, which China delineates on maps with a U-shaped “nine-dash” line (see map). Every other disputant in the South China Sea, including the Philippines, bases its maritime claims on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an international agreement that defines maritime zones.

Opposing Beijing’s expansionist claims, in 2013 the Philippines brought a case against China before an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration—a forum for settling international disputes—in The Hague, Netherlands. China refused to participate. On July 12, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines on almost all its claims, declaring that China forfeited the possibility of any historically based rights when it ratified the UN convention in 1996. China has vowed to ignore the ruling.

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Crew members take shelter from a storm aboard the Ninay. Filipino fishermen have reported increasing interference from Chinese coast guard vessels in the South China Sea. China claims most of the South China Sea for itself.  Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic
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Competition for fish has exacerbated the dispute, and the dispute has intensified competition among fishermen, further depleting fish. Some parts of the South China Sea have less than a tenth of the stocks they had five decades ago. And high-value fish such as tuna and grouper are becoming scarcer.

“What we’re looking at is potentially one of the world’s worst fisheries collapses ever,” says John McManus, a marine biologist at the Rosenstiel School at the University of Miami who studies the region’s reefs.

.“We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of species that will collapse, and they’ll collapse relatively quickly, one after another.”

MONICA SERRANO, NG STAFF
SOURCES: COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS; U.S. ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION;
OCEANASIA 2015, REPORTED AND ESTIMATED UNREPORTED CATCHES; RANDALL AND LIM, 2000; CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

Fishermen on the Front Lines

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As coastal waters are depleted, fishermen have been forced to venture farther offshore and into disputed waters to make a living. China has seized this as an opportunity to bolster its claims by aggressively supporting its fishermen. Beijing has consolidated the coast guard, militarized fishing fleets, and begun offering subsidies for bigger and better boats, water, and fuel. There’s even a special subsidy specifically for fishermen to fish in the contested Spratly Islands, more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) to the south.

“The only reason that smaller [Chinese] fishermen go out to the Spratlys is because they’re paid to do so,” says Gregory Poling, the director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Center for Strategic Studies. This extra pressure has sped up the depletion of fish stocks, he says.

The Chinese have also been building artificial islands atop reefs in the Spratlys to support military installations there. “Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” says Zachary Abuza, an expert on Southeast Asian politics and maritime security at the National War College, in Washington, D.C. “China is trying to enforce its sovereignty through the construction of these islands and by denying other countries access to natural resources.”

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A couple sits outside a home built over the water in Quezon, where most people have family members who work as fishermen. Overfishing has put the livelihoods of many Filipinos at risk.
Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

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Eugenio Bito-onon, Jr.—until recently the mayor of the Kalayaan municipality, which includes islands in the Spratlys—is an outspoken advocate for the Philippines’ claims. Bito-onon and I met in the island’s cramped satellite office in Puerto Princesa, where he had a gigantic map of the South China Sea marked up with his own handwritten labels and colored dots showing which countries claim which features.

He pulls up Google Earth on his laptop and finds Thitu, an island in the Spratlys known locally as Pag-asa, where about 200 Filipinos, including a small number of troops, live part-time, their presence demonstrating the Philippines’ claim to the island. Rice, clothing, soap, and other necessities must be brought in by boat or airlift, and two government-owned generators are the only source of electricity. Bito-onon points out just how close Chinese-claimed Subi Reef is to Thitu. So close, he says, that on a clear day residents can see it on the horizon.

Even closer, though, are Chinese fishing boats, which he says have fished the reefs empty. “For the past three years, [the Chinese] never leave,” Bito-onon says from behind his laptop, now displaying satellite imagery of reefs around Thitu. “Chinese fishing boats come and go, replacing each other,” he says, but there are never not boats within sight of the island.

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A Filipino fisherman wades from boat to shore with part of the crew’s catch. Fishermen who go to the South China Sea report that their catches have gotten smaller in recent years. Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

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The Navotas Fish Port in Manila is the largest in the Philippines. The markets at the port trade in seafood from freshwater farms, national waters, and international waters, including the South China Sea. Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic
Gilbert Elefane, the Filipino captain of a tuna boat based in the municipality of Quezon, on Palawan, says he now sees up to a hundred boats, many Chinese, on a single two-week fishing trip in the South China Sea. Just a few years ago, he says he’d have seen no more than 30.

Beijing has provided military training and sophisticated GPS and communications technology to its fishermen so they can call in the coast guard if they have a run-in with a foreign law enforcement vessel or alert the coast guard of the presence of fishermen from other countries.

In the face of China’s island building, Vietnam has done some small-scale land reclamation of its own in an attempt to bolster its capacity in the Spratlys. Its efforts, however, have been less destructive than China’s.

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A dock worker uses a mallet to dislodge frozen tuna aboard a Chinese cargo vessel docked at the city of General Santos in the Philippines. The cargo vessel spends up to two months at sea with a fleet of a dozen tuna boats working to fill its freezer. Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

As long as the conflict in the South China Sea continues, it will be nearly impossible to regulate fishing.

When one country tries to protect its fishing grounds, tensions flare. In March, for instance, Indonesian maritime law enforcement officials arrested eight Chinese on charges of illegal fishing. The fishermen were less than three miles (five kilometers) from Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. The Natunas themselves are not in dispute, but the waters north of them, which are particularly rich in gas, have become a new flashpoint. Under international law they’re Indonesian, but they partially overlap with China’s nine-dash line claims, so China says it has a right to fish there.

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A pregnant woman wades in the dirty water near the Navotas Fish Port. The Philippines’ economy relies heavily on fishing and the seafood trade, as do most of the countries around the South China Sea. Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

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When Indonesia’s vessel began towing the Chinese boat back to port, an armed Chinese coast guard ship appeared and began ramming the Chinese boat to break it free. The Indonesians were forced to let the boat go and retreat.

“It’s unclear whose laws you’re enforcing when you have seven overlapping sets of fisheries laws,” Poling says. “States have a vested interest in purposely violating fishing laws of other states.”

That’s because abiding by another country’s fishing law is tantamount to accepting that that country has jurisdiction over that region, which no country has been willing to do.

In 2012, a Philippine navy warship attempted to arrest Chinese fishermen at Scarborough Shoal, about 138 miles (220 kilometers) from the Philippine coast, on suspicion of illegal fishing and poaching rare corals, giant clams, and sharks. A Chinese coast guard ship interfered to prevent the arrests, forcing a standoff. After 10 weeks both sides agreed to withdraw, but once the Philippines left, China remained, effectively seizing control of the shoal.

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A fisherman at the General Santos Fish Port carries a yellowfin tuna caught in the South China Sea. Fishermen say the fish they catch now are smaller than before.  Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

 

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Workers at the Navotas Fish Port unload and sort fish from commercial boats that have returned from the South China Sea, where overfishing has exacerbated the land and sea disputes in the region.
Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

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As Filipino fishermen have seen their catches—and the fish themselves—getting smaller, they’ve increasingly been resorting to dangerous, illegal fishing methods. Blast fishing, which Filipinos call “bong bong” fishing, involves setting off homemade bombs underwater to kill dozens of fish at one time. Cyanide fishing, which involves squirting fish in the face with poison to stun them, is used to catch live reef fish to supply high-end live seafood restaurants in Hong Kong and other large Asian cities. Both practices kill coral and other fish, collateral damage that’s pushing the sea ever closer to an overfishing crisis.

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Dock workers at the Navotas Fish Port sort through mussels. If the South China Sea fishery were to collapse, it would threaten the food supply of millions. Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic
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China’s island building and giant clam poaching have caused most of them documented reef destruction in the South China Sea, an area totaling 62 square miles (163 square kilometers). Island building grinds up corals for use as foundation material, smothers reefs that become the base of islands, and creates sediment plumes that suffocate nearby reefs. Dredging to deepen ports also causes serious damage. And poaching of giant clams entails grinding up corals to loosen the shells from the reef.

“It’s quite possible we’re seeing a serious decline in about half of the reefs,” John McManus, the marine biologist, says. “That’s what I expect will happen, if it hasn’t happened already. It’s just total destruction.”

When a reef is destroyed, the ecosystem unravels. Reef fish lose their habitat, and pelagic fish such as tuna lose an important source of food. Furthermore, reefs in the South China Sea are connected. Fish larvae from one reef ride the current across the sea to repopulate another reef. If a reef disappears, so does that source of larvae, increasing the chance that local extirpations of fish species will be permanent.

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Dock workers and fishermen buy food from a street vendor at the Navotas Fish Port, in Manila. Some 320,000 Filipinos fish the South China Sea, and many more work on the docks, as fish packers, and as seafood traders, among other jobs.  Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic

McManus says that many of the damaged reefs will be able to recover in a decade or two—if the island building and destructive giant clam poaching stop. He champions the idea of a “peace park,” a kind of marine protected area where all countries would put a freeze on their claims and halt all activities, like island building, that bolster those claims.

Experts also say cooperative regional management could go a long way toward making the South China Sea fishery sustainable. It would require dramatic cutbacks in the number of fishing boats and restrictions on fishing methods such as the use of huge fishing vessels that use powerful lights at night to attract tuna. All this would in turn mean helping fishermen find other ways to earn a living.

Under a sustainable management plan, tuna and mackerel could recover 17-fold by 2045, Rashid Sumaila and William Cheung at the University of British Columbia predicted in a 2015 report. Reef fish would recover up to 15 percent, and the catch and value of reef fish would also increase. Sharks and groupers, which are also high-value fish, would make a comeback too.

But Poling, of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, questions whether such a plan will happen in time. “What that requires is setting aside the disputes,” he says. “It’s possible—it’s just not likely. In order to have a successful joint management system, the first step is to agree on what area you’re talking about.” With China clinging to its nine-dash line while other countries base their claims on international law, agreement just won’t be possible, he says.

As it now stands, the South China Sea’s most important resource—its fish—is disappearing, and countries are either passively standing by or actively encouraging their fishermen to take more.

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Children fish at dusk in the fishing community of Quezon in the Philippines. Fishermen here ply their trade in national waters and the South China Sea. Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic
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Aurora Almendral contributed to this report.

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Coming Tuesday: China’s giant clam poaching is decimating reefs in the South China Sea.

Follow Rachael Bale on Twitter.

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to ngwildlife@ngs.org.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/wildlife-south-china-sea-overfishing-threatens-collapse/

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Related:

 — From March 25, 2017 with links to other related articles

National Geographic:

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A China Coast Guard ship (top) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a stand off as the Philippine boat attempts to reach the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea a reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jay Directo )

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A Vietnamese fisherman repairs his vessel after it was rammed by a Chinese patrol ship that it protecting the waters around a disputed oil rig in the South China Sea, May 18, 2014. (PhoBolsaTV.com)

A Vietnamese fisherman repairs his vessel after it was rammed by a Chinese patrol ship that it protecting the waters around a disputed oil rig in the South China Sea, May 18, 2014. (PhoBolsaTV.com)

Chủ tàu Trần Văn Quang và chiếc mỏ neo bị tàu lạ đâm lút vào mũi tàu. Ảnh: Đức Nguyễn.

Vietnamese fishing boat Captain Tran Van Quang

Chủ tàu Trần Văn Quang và chiếc mỏ neo bị tàu lạ đâm lút vào mũi tàu. Ảnh: Đức Nguyễn.

 

Outrage: Vietnamese and Filipino protesters outside the Chinese Consulate at the financial district of Makati city to protest the recent moves by China to construct an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea

Outrage: Vietnamese and Filipino protesters outside the Chinese Consulate at the financial district of Makati city, the Philippines, to protest the recent moves by China to construct an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea

 

 (This    article has links to several  others related to environmental issues in the South China Sea).

A green sea turtle is seen off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

A green sea turtle.(Reuters)

 (Includes Obama creates largest ocean reserve, takes heat for new federal decrees)

 (Has links to many related conservation and environmental articles)

 (Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports)

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing and outdoor

Filipino activists and Vietnamese nationals display placards and chant anti-China slogans as they march outside the Chinese Consulate in Manila’s Makati financial district on May 16, 2014. Several hundred Filipino and Vietnamese protesters united in a march in the Philippine capital on Friday, May 16, 2014, demanding that China stop oil drilling in disputed South China Sea waters. — PHOTO: REUTERS

 

 (August 25, 2016)

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and water

China’s Tian Jing Hao – Cutter suction dredger — Used to destroy South China Sea coral reefs to provide dredge material for new man made- islands — an environmental disaster

 (Contains links to several related articles)

August 17, 2015
ANOTHER set of a dredge floater assembly with Chinese markings found in the Zambales sea is pulled to the shore of the capital town of Iba on Sunday. The first set of dredge floaters was found by local fishermen off Cabangan, Zambales province, in July. ALLAN MACATUNO/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

ANOTHER set of a dredge floater assembly with Chinese markings found in the Zambales sea is pulled to the shore of the capital town of Iba on Sunday. The first set of dredge floaters was found by local fishermen off Cabangan, Zambales province, in July. ALLAN MACATUNO/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

 

 

An elderly Vietnamese protester holds a placard during an anti-China protest in front of the Chinese consulate in the financial district of Manila on May 16, 2014. Several hundred Filipino and Vietnamese protesters united in a march in the Philippine capital on May 16, demanding that China stop oil drilling in disputed South China Sea waters. Many Vietnamese remain uneasy with China in the South china sea till this day.  AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor and water

The End of an era?  Fishermen work to unload a net full of anchovies during a fishing expedition in the Pacific Ocean. Photo AP

 

 

Chinese moving to dominate the South China Sea — An emerging environmental disaster has gone largely unnoticed

March 26, 2017

A sea in peril

While rival claimants jockey for strategic position in the South China Sea, an emerging environmental disaster has gone largely unnoticed

MARCH 25, 2017

China will soon host a dialogue with Southeast Asian nations aimed at managing tensions in the South China Sea. But it’s not clear whether the talks will help to save a marine environment that in parts is facing collapse.

While diplomats discuss the implementation of a code of conduct for rival claimants in the vast waterway, scientists say that the region’s marine environment also deserves attention, partly because overfishing on all sides is depleting fish stocks.

Chinese fishermen in search of valuable giant clams have destroyed vital coral reefs on a vast scale, although that practice now appears to be slowing.

Rachael Bale of National Geographic, who has written extensively on the South China Sea, aptly summed up the situation early this year, saying that “While politicians argue over which country controls the region, the fishery … is on the brink of collapse.”

Fishermen unload baskets of fish as they dock their boats at a port under the alert of Typhoon Kalmaegi, in Sanya, Hainan province September 14, 2014. China's marine forecast station issued a yellow alert as typhoon Kalmaegi is expected to enter the South China Sea on Monday morning, Xinhua News Agency reported. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT AGRICULTURE) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA - RTR464V0

Overfished: Fishermen unload their catch in Hainan province, China. Photo: Reuters

According to The Nature Conservancy, overfishing is a common problem around the world. Maria Damanaki, global managing director for oceans at the Conservancy, explains that “when too few individual fish of breeding age remain, they simply don’t produce well …”

It is what she describes as “a lose-lose situation for both fishermen and conservationists.” The stakes are particularly high in the case of the South China Sea.

High stakes

Occupying more than 3.5 million square kilometers, the South China Sea is one of the world’s five leading fishing zones, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia.

The fishery employs more than 3 million people, contributes heavily to the global fish trade and provides a major source of vital protein to millions of people living in the nations that depend on it.

In addition, experts believe that huge reserves of oil and gas lie unexploited beneath the disputed waters.

Fishing boats are seen anchored in a bay as Typhoon Chan-Hom approaches southern China, in Wenling, Zhejiang province, July 8, 2015. Chinese authorities have suspended train services, closed schools and bought trawlers back to port before two typhoons in the south and east of the country make landfall later this week, state media said. Picture taken July 8, 2015. REUTERS/William Hong CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA - RTX1JNFJ

Seafaring: Chinese fishing boats anchored in the bay. Photo: Reuters/William Hong

US Air Force Captain Adam Greer, who has done research partly funded by the National Defense University, says that the stakes in the South China Sea can be summed up by a “3 P’s rule”—politics, petroleum, and protein.

In an article published in The Diplomat, Greer argues that the protein derived from fish may be the most important factor driving competition in the South China Sea.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, boat, outdoor and water

The best news for the environment, one leading American scientist says, was a Chinese decision early this year to enforce regulations calling for a halt to the harvesting and processing by Chinese fishermen of giant clams in the South China Sea.

John McManus, a professor of marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami, said that the decision, announced by China’s southern Hainan province, could mark a major step toward helping to preserve and restore a vital part of the marine environment.

The giant clams are embedded in coral reefs that protect small fish from predators. The coral reefs also play a role in replenishing fish stocks.

This picture taken on July 19, 2013 shows giant clams on display in Tanmen, in China's southern Hainan Province. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO / STR

In demand: Giant clams for sale in China’s southern Hainan Province. Photo: AFP

According to McManus, Chinese poachers using boat propellers to dig up reefs and uncover the clams have caused widespread damage to many of the reefs. Chinese dredging aimed at gathering sand and gravel to build artificial islands has caused further serious damage.

The highly valued shells of the clams have been carved much like elephant ivory into intricate ornaments for sale to Chinese tourists visiting Hainan Island. Some Chinese regard the meat from the clams as a rare delicacy and an aphrodisiac.

Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Washington DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies believes that the biggest factor in reducing the giant clam shell trade may be Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

“As the crackdown on corruption has spread, people are understandably hesitant to accept jewelry or statues made from poached giant clams,” Poling said.

Products made from giant clam shells are displayed inside a store in the seaside town of Tanmen in China's Hainan province May 10, 2016. Picture taken May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Farah Master - RTX2IKU7

Shiny wears: Products made from giant clam shells at Tanmen town in China’s Hainan province. Photo: Reuters/Farah Master

Zhang Hongzhou, a research fellow at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, says that it appears the crackdown on the giant clam trade has been “very decisive, at least as of now.”

The local government on Hainan Island, he says, also intends to promote “fishing tourism” as an alternative source of income for the local fishermen.

But Zhang says that he sees some evidence that the price for giant clams is rising, which could lead to an underground trade that spurs illegal harvesting.

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Coral rubble remains after Chinese “chopper” boats killed branching corals, which were subsequently further broken up by  blast fishing.  John McManus/Rosenstiel School, University of Miami

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Dr. John McManus, professor of Marine Biology and Fisheries at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

The various nations involved in the South China Sea, including China, have laws aimed at preserving the marine environment. But the problem so far has been a lack of implementation.

Talks bring hope

China’s recent negotiations with Vietnam have offered another source of hope. During a recent visit to Beijing, Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary, signed 15 agreements dealing, among other things, with economic cooperation, defense relations and tourism.

But another development points to potential conflict.

Satellite photos taken by the firm Planet Labs on March 6 show the clearing of land by China for possible new construction in the disputed Paracel Islands. Taiwan and Vietnam claim the Paracels as their territory.

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Photo taken May 2016. U.S. Navy/Handout

Chinese dredging vessels in the South China Sea in 2016. Photo: US Navy/handout

Last month China’s agriculture ministry announced a fishing ban, including over a number of areas claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, among others, in the South China Sea, that would last from May 1 to August 16. The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry strongly objected to the ban, which it described as “unilateral.”

Hua Chunying, spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

At the same time, on the diplomatic front, China claims to be drafting a new code of conduct with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), although some experts doubt that diplomats can complete it as promised by the end of this year.

A non-binding code of conduct resolution signed by China and ASEAN in 2002 included brief mention of cooperative “marine environmental protection,” contingent on a comprehensive and durable settlement of the disputes.

South China Sea disputed islands

Marine biology expert McManus says that effectively managing the marine environment will require peaceful relations among the nations whose fishermen, and the Coast Guards backing them, have clashed frequently in recent years.

McManus proposes that a “marine peace park” be established in the Spratly Islands and that a freeze on territorial claims be imposed as part of an agreement. But satellite images showing the clearing of land on North Island in the Paracels group makes a freeze seem unlikely any time soon.

A Vietnamese Coast Guard officer took a picture of a China Coast Guard ship moving toward his vessel, which is near the site of a Chinese drilling oil rig being installed in disputed water.

A Vietnamese Coast Guard officer took a picture of a China Coast Guard ship moving toward his vessel, which is near the site of a Chinese drilling oil rig being installed in disputed water. AFP/getty images

Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defense Force Academy, describes the Paracels as “vital to any future Chinese attempt to dominate the South China Sea.” But as long as the territorial disputes drag on, the maritime area’s environment will likely continue to pay a high cost.

Dan Southerland is the former executive editor of Radio Free Asia

 

Related:

 — From March 25, 2017 with links to other related articles

National Geographic:

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A China Coast Guard ship (top) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a stand off as the Philippine boat attempts to reach the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea a reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jay Directo )

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A Vietnamese fisherman repairs his vessel after it was rammed by a Chinese patrol ship that it protecting the waters around a disputed oil rig in the South China Sea, May 18, 2014. (PhoBolsaTV.com)

A Vietnamese fisherman repairs his vessel after it was rammed by a Chinese patrol ship that it protecting the waters around a disputed oil rig in the South China Sea, May 18, 2014. (PhoBolsaTV.com)

Chủ tàu Trần Văn Quang và chiếc mỏ neo bị tàu lạ đâm lút vào mũi tàu. Ảnh: Đức Nguyễn.

Vietnamese fishing boat Captain Tran Van Quang

Chủ tàu Trần Văn Quang và chiếc mỏ neo bị tàu lạ đâm lút vào mũi tàu. Ảnh: Đức Nguyễn.

 

Outrage: Vietnamese and Filipino protesters outside the Chinese Consulate at the financial district of Makati city to protest the recent moves by China to construct an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea

Outrage: Vietnamese and Filipino protesters outside the Chinese Consulate at the financial district of Makati city, the Philippines, to protest the recent moves by China to construct an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea

 

 (This    article has links to several  others related to environmental issues in the South China Sea).

A green sea turtle is seen off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

A green sea turtle.(Reuters)

 (Includes Obama creates largest ocean reserve, takes heat for new federal decrees)

 (Has links to many related conservation and environmental articles)

 (Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports)

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing and outdoor

Filipino activists and Vietnamese nationals display placards and chant anti-China slogans as they march outside the Chinese Consulate in Manila’s Makati financial district on May 16, 2014. Several hundred Filipino and Vietnamese protesters united in a march in the Philippine capital on Friday, May 16, 2014, demanding that China stop oil drilling in disputed South China Sea waters. — PHOTO: REUTERS

 

 (August 25, 2016)

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and water

China’s Tian Jing Hao – Cutter suction dredger — Used to destroy South China Sea coral reefs to provide dredge material for new man made- islands — an environmental disaster

 (Contains links to several related articles)

August 17, 2015
ANOTHER set of a dredge floater assembly with Chinese markings found in the Zambales sea is pulled to the shore of the capital town of Iba on Sunday. The first set of dredge floaters was found by local fishermen off Cabangan, Zambales province, in July. ALLAN MACATUNO/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

ANOTHER set of a dredge floater assembly with Chinese markings found in the Zambales sea is pulled to the shore of the capital town of Iba on Sunday. The first set of dredge floaters was found by local fishermen off Cabangan, Zambales province, in July. ALLAN MACATUNO/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

 

 

An elderly Vietnamese protester holds a placard during an anti-China protest in front of the Chinese consulate in the financial district of Manila on May 16, 2014. Several hundred Filipino and Vietnamese protesters united in a march in the Philippine capital on May 16, demanding that China stop oil drilling in disputed South China Sea waters. Many Vietnamese remain uneasy with China in the South china sea till this day.  AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor and water

The End of an era?  Fishermen work to unload a net full of anchovies during a fishing expedition in the Pacific Ocean. Photo AP

 

 

China to host Asean in meeting on South China Sea

March 25, 2017
MAR 24, 2017, 5:00 AM SGT

Aim is for preliminary accord on framework for code of conduct to ease tension over spats

China will host a meeting with Asean in May to come up with a “preliminary agreement” on a framework for a “code of conduct” (COC) meant to ease tensions over disputes in the South China Sea.

“Maybe by that time, we will have made significant progress on the framework,” said Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo at a news briefing on the sidelines of President Rodrigo Duterte’s official visit to Thailand on Wednesday.

Mr Manalo said earlier that a draft of the framework – first broached during a senior Asean officials’ meeting in the resort island of Boracay in the Philippines last month – is already being circulated to get Asean’s 10 member states to sign off.

“I’m not saying it will happen, but the hope of everyone is that by the time we get to the meeting in May, the senior officials… may be able to already have at least a preliminary agreement on the framework,” he said.

Mr Manalo declined to discuss specifics about the framework, except to say that it will incorporate elements already agreed upon under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

In that declaration, the two sides agreed to “exercise self-restraint” to prevent actions that could “complicate or escalate disputes”.

At the Boracay meeting, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Asean was looking at concluding the COC framework by June this year.

A COC has been in the making since 2002, but talks have been slow, as consensus within Asean has been elusive and China insists on conditions that have made it difficult to reach a compromise.

Last year, following a ruling from a tribunal striking down its claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, China sought to have a COC framework ready by the middle of this year.

A COC is expected to lay down legally binding rules and guidelines on avoiding conflicts arising from rival claims by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan over all or parts of the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) worth of trade passes through each year.

This comes as Mr Duterte reiterated that Chinese President Xi Jinping has assured him that China will not build structures on Scarborough Shoal as a “token of friendship”.

Beijing denied a news report that plans are afoot to erect an “environment monitoring station” on Scarborough Shoal, a potential flashpoint in the South China Sea.

“I was informed that they are not going to build anything on Scarborough,” said Mr Duterte at a news briefing shortly after he arrived in Manila from Bangkok just after midnight yesterday.

“Out of respect for our friendship, they will stop it. They won’t touch it. That’s what China said. Don’t worry. We are friends.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2017, with the headline ‘China to host Asean in meeting on South China Sea’.
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Beijing Defends Its Right to Guard South China Sea With Arms

March 24, 2017

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang says deployment of military gear helps to protect maritime trade routes

Malcolm Turnbull in China

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrives in Australia for a five-day visit, March 23, 2017. Reuters photo

March 24, 2017 1:44 a.m. ET

CANBERRA, Australia—Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made an unusually elaborate defense of Beijing’s deployment of military gear on artificial islands in the South China Sea, saying the disputed facilities were partly intended to protect maritime trade and air routes.

Mr. Li, who was asked to speak about the hot-button issue on a visit to Australia to promote trade links, said that it was China that would be hit hardest by conflict in a region home to trillions of dollars worth of seaborne trade.

“China’s facilities on Chinese islands and reefs are primarily for civilian purposes,” Mr. Li said in a press conference at Australia’s Parliament. “And even if there is a certain amount of defense equipment or facilities, it is for maintaining the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, because without such freedom or without stability in the South China Sea, the Chinese side would be the first to bear the brunt of it.”

His comments were a rare amplification by a top Chinese leader on Beijing’s South China Sea policies following a pledge in 2015 by China’s President Xi Jinping not to militarize the islands . The U.S. and some Asian countries that have territorial disputes with China in the sea are concerned about the construction of extensive facilities including ports, hangars and military-capable runways.

Last year, after a U.S. think tank released satellite images appearing to show China had installed antiaircraft weapons and other arms on all seven islands it has built in the in the Spratly archipelago, China’s Defense Ministry said the emplacements were for “appropriate and legal” self-defense.

Both the U.S. and China say their main goal in the South China Sea is to maintain security, freedom of navigation in the vital global trade route. Where they disagree is over China’s expansive maritime claims over most of the sea and who should be the guarantor of such principles.

The U.S. has carried out several so-called freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, sending warships close to Chinese-built atolls in patrols that have raised tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Mr. Li said China “never had any intention” to engage in militarization when it began building islands in waters claimed in whole or part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. But he said China’s presence guaranteed that more than 100,000 ships passed through the sea and the pirate-plagued Malacca Strait last year without being attacked.

“We hope that the market and the business communities will continue to have strong faith in the South China Sea, in these sea-lanes with safe passage to pursue more free trade,” he said.

An estimated $5 trillion worth of goods pass through South China Sea maritime trade routes each year, en route to China, South Korea, Japan and other Asia-Pacific destinations.

During his confirmation hearings, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington may need to block China from some South China Sea islands, what expert said could trigger a dangerous military escalation. But Mr. Tillerson struck a conciliatory tone after meeting President Xi Jinping last week, promising “non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull signed deals with Mr. Li on Friday to expand Australia’s $6 billion-a-year beef export industry with China, while streamlining the 2015 China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. The beef deal sought to capitalize on a temporary halt to China’s imports of beef from Brazil after a furor there over meatpacking safety.

Mr. Li’s five-day visit to Australia is the first by a Chinese premier in more than a decade and comes weeks ahead of a visit by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence aimed at improving alliance ties. As well as signing trade agreements, Mr. Li will also attend a weekend game of Australian Rules, the country’s quirky homegrown football code which Canberra hopes will take off in China.

Mr. Li has also sought while in the country to contrast China’s trade stability with the U.S. under Mr. Trump, warning against protectionism and Washington’s decision to reject a Pacific trade pact favored by Australia.

Mr. Turnbull said his country didn’t need to choose between security alliance ties with the U.S. and China, as the country’s biggest trade partner, worth about $114 billion last year, around a quarter of Australia’s total.

“We have a staunch, strong ally in Washington and a very good friend in Beijing,” Mr. Turnbull said. “It’s a multipolar world. The idea that Australia has to choose between Australia and the United States is not correct.

Jeremy Page in Beijing contributed to this article.

Write to Rob Taylor at rob.taylor@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/beijing-defends-its-right-to-guard-south-china-sea-with-arms-1490334273

The Five Fastest Growing Economies In East Asia In 2017

March 24, 2017

I cover under-reported stories from Taiwan and Asia.

A man rides a bicycle under the flyover at the South Luzon Expressway in Manila on November 18, 2010. (NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

The first thing you saw last year after walking out of Manila’s international airport was an expressway flyover construction project. It wasn’t scenic, and detours due to construction might have set back your taxi ride to the hotel in an already infamously congested city. But the 11.6-km project, the NAIA Expressway, opened at year’s end as a typical case of basic infrastructure work that is pushing the Philippine economy to expand faster than a lot of its peers around Asia.

The Philippines is just one growth engine for the region stretching from Japan to Singapore, and infrastructure booms are just one source of booming economies. Here are the countries that the World Bank projects will grow fastest in East Asia and the Pacific this year:

1. Laos. This impoverished country with a strict Communist government will grow 7% this year because of investment in the power sector and deeper integration with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the World Bank The landlocked country of about 7 million people is improving its power network to provide electricity to 10% of households by 2020 and possibly export it as well, according to the Department of Energy Business website. Laos has also made it easier to do business. The 2016 GDP stood at $13.7 billion.

2. The Philippines. It’s not just the expressway that will push Philippine GDP growth upward by 6.9% this year, per the World Bank’s estimate. Public infrastructure spending will hit a record high of $17.7 billion, more than 5% of the GDP, Philippine News Agency says. The country of 102 million people should see “faster and more effective roll-out of tax reform and government infrastructure projects and public-private partnerships,” adds Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist with Banco de Oro UniBank in Metro Manila. Infrastructure spending combined with older economic drivers such as remittances from overseas, consumer spending and call centers will expand an economy worth $311 billion economy last year. Once the airports and rail systems start coming online, foreign-invested factories will find thing easier and tourists — always a core part of the Philippine economy — will find getting around easier.

3. Cambodia. The World Bank forecasts the $19.4 billion economy of this small Southeast Asian country to expand 6.9% this year. It cites exports following a “sizable foreign direct investment” into the garment sector, as well as real estate and construction projects. Some garment factories have shifted from Vietnam because labor in Cambodia is even cheaper. The value of garment exports reached $6 billion in 2015, worth 70% of all exports, and employed 700,000 people, according to Research and Markets. Like Laos, Cambodia has also made doing business easier, the World Bank says.

4. Myanmar. Another country expected to grow 6.9% this year, the former military dictatorship that just opened to foreign investment in 2012 will keep that advantage as well as domestic private sector investments, the World Bank says. The country with a 2016 GDP of $68.3 billion has lured foreign investors with its natural resources, young workforce and pro-business changes to laws. A lot of foreign-funded projects cover energy, garment production and food and beverages.

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5. China. Although the World Bank’s projected 2017 growth rate of 6.5% marks a growth slowdown from last year’s 6.7% — already a 26-year-low — the world’s second largest economy will keep expanding. That’s most likely due to fiscal stimulus, attention to new infrastructure such as bridges and roads as well as continued focus on export manufacturing. Those engines that have run China since the 1980s will keep going despite pledges from government officials to push both aside in favor of private investment and consumer spending. Foreign investment is expected to grow 15% this year, up from 4.1% in 2016.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphjennings/2017/03/23/east-asias-5-fastest-growing-countries-in-2017/#210d45f55ac6

Growing Conflict in Asia Sparks Japan’s Military Expansion

March 23, 2017

GROWING CONFLICT IN ASIA SPARKS MILITARY EXPANSION IN JAPAN

BY ON 3/22/17 AT 1:07 PM

US Defence Secretary sees no need for US military action in South China Sea
 Video:

Japan unveiled its second helicopter carrier, the Kaga, Wednesday, sending a message of military strength to China amid growing conflict over the South China Sea and other strategic waterways in Asia. The new vessel is the latest sign of Japan’s ongoing military expansion as it seeks greater international influence.

Roughly 500 people attended the unveiling ceremony at the Japan Marine United shipyard in Yokohama near Tokyo. The vessel was parked next to Japan’s other helicopter carrier, the Izumo, Reuters reported Wednesday. 

Japan wasn’t shy about its motivation. Vice Minister of Defense Takayuki Kobayashi said at the ceremony Tokyo was deeply concerned about China’s construction of islands and military bases in the South China Sea waterway, which is claimed by multiple Asian nations.

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Japan’s Izumo now has a sister ship named Kaga

“China is attempting to make changes in the South China Sea with bases, and through acts that exert pressure is altering the status quo, raising security concerns among the international community,” he said.

Roughly $5 trillion in global trade passes through the South China Sea each year. Both Japan and the U.S. have urged Beijing to honor open travel in the waterway. Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei also claim the South China Sea, which is known for its fishing and oil and gas deposits. Japan, meanwhile, is engaged in its own territorial dispute with China over the neighboring East China Sea.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has increasingly called for Japan to seek a bigger international role in global military conflicts in recent years and urged lawmakers to reconsider Japan’s pacifist constitution that forbids using force in international disputes. His remarks have alarmed China and many Japanese voters who enjoy the country’s post-World War II pacifism.

“If Japan persists in taking wrong actions, and even considers military interventions that threaten China’s sovereignty and security… then China will inevitably take firm responsive measures,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing last week.

Japan plans to send its Izumo helicopter carrier through Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka starting in May before joint naval exercises with India and the U.S. in the Indian Ocean in July.

China’s and Japan’s economies are the world’s second- and third-largest.

http://www.newsweek.com/growing-conflict-asia-sparks-military-expansion-japan-572250

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Philippines: “Stand Up To China,” Some Allies of President Duterte Urge Him To Change Course Before It Is Too Late

March 23, 2017
ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 23 2017 03:25 AM

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President Rodrigo Duterte

MANILA — A senator and ally of President Rodrigo Duterte is asking him to rethink his “hands-off” approach in dealing with the South China Sea.

Duterte has drawn criticism for his response to the alleged Chinese encroachment on Benham Rise and reports that Beijing is also planning to build a station in Scarborough Shoal.

Reacting to reports that China plans to build a monitoring station in Scarborough, Duterte recently said that the Philippines cannot do anything to stop China from altering the disputed shoal, located some 124 nautical miles from Zambales.

China has since denied the report.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said Duterte’s approach on the issue is wrong and the president must stand up to China.

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A Vietnamese Coast Guard captain speaks to other ships as a Chinese Coast Guard vessel cuts across its path to prevent access to an oil rig situated west of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. | BLOOMBERG

“It is incorrect to say that there is nothing we can do to stop China. We still have several legal and diplomatic options, all of which must be exhausted in defending Philippine territory from foreign aggression,” Gatchalian said.

“The Philippines should never allow itself to be bullied by anyone, no matter how big and powerful that bully might be.”

Gatchalian said Duterte must also invoke the Philippines’ legal victory against China should Beijing step up its aggression in the South China Sea.

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A Filipino fishing vessel ventures into the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. —REM ZAMORA

Last July, a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal invalidated China’s so-called nine-dash line claim to the South China Sea. It also said, Scarborough Shoal is a traditional fishing ground of the countries surrounding it and China may be violating the Philippines’ sovereign rights by blocking access to it.

“The favorable decision in the Philippines vs. China case is a potent tool we can use to enforce our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. It is our duty to invoke this ruling and take action before international legal institutions to contest any further acts of Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea,” Gatchalian said.