Posts Tagged ‘Brunei’

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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We at Peace and Freedom have catalogued much of the history of recent events and issues around the South China Sea for the past five years. Use these keywords to see more:

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 — 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)

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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)

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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)

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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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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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Singapore prime minister visits Vietnam to strengthen trade — Vietnam asks for South Korean help in South China Sea

March 23, 2017

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

March 23, 2017 at 18:20 JST

Photo/Illutration

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, left, speaks during a joint press briefing with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi on March 23. (AP Photo)

HANOI–Vietnam and Singapore have signed several business agreements as the island state seeks to boost investment and trade with the communist country during a visit by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Among the six memorandums of understanding that were signed Thursday and witnessed by Lee and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc, two were for industrial parks to be developed by Singapore’s Sembcorp in central Vietnam.

“I’m very glad to be back to Vietnam after more than three years in order to take our relationship another step forward,” Lee told reporters at a joint press briefing with Phuc.

Lee told reporters that he hoped Singapore, one of Vietnam’s top investors and trading partners, would increase its investments in the country.

“With more intensive business links and with more tourism between both sides, travel between Vietnam and Singapore has increased substantially,” Lee said.

Phuc said the two leaders were committed to enhancing the partnership between Vietnam and Singapore in all fields.

Lee said the two discussed regional and security issues and in particular the South China Sea, where he said issues should be resolved “in accordance with the international law including the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea … and also on the freedom of navigation on the important artery of global commerce in the South China Sea.”

Vietnam and China along with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan claim parts of or all of the South China Sea.

Vietnam is the vocal opponent of China’s expansion in the South China Sea.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201703230053.html

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Vietnam seeks South Korean support in South China Sea

HANOI: Vietnam’s Prime Minister sought support for the nation’s stance in the South China Sea when he met South Korea’s foreign minister in Hanoi on Monday.

Vietnam is the country most openly at odds with China over the waterway since the Philippines pulled back from confrontation under President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The Prime Minister proposed that South Korea continue its support over the position of Vietnam and Southeast Asia on the South China Sea issue and to help the country improve its law enforcement at the sea”, the government said in a statement on its website after the meeting between Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.

The statement did not say whether South Korea backed Vietnam’s position on the South China Sea.

Yun did affirm his country’s willingness to promote ties despite instability in South Korea after the ousting of President Park Geun-hye over a graft scandal.

South Korea is Vietnam’s biggest foreign investor thanks to companies like Samsung.

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South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se is welcomed by Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

South Korea and China are currently in dispute over deployment of the U.S. anti-missile defence system. South Korea on Monday has complained to the World Trade Organization about Chinese retaliation against its companies over the deployment.

Last week, Vietnam demanded China stop sending cruise ships to the area in response to one of Beijing’s latest moves to bolster its claims to the strategic waterway.

China claims 90 percent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the route, through which about US$5 trillion of trade passes each year.

(Reporting by My Pham; Editing by Julia Glover)

South China Sea: Philippines closely monitoring Chinese activities in Scarborough Shoal — Who owns the sea?

March 22, 2017
By: – Reporter / @NCorralesINQ
/ 01:31 PM March 22, 2017
Photo: An aircrewman monitors his sytems aboard a maritime patrol aircraft over the South China Sea
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PH closely monitoring Chinese activities in Scarborough Shoal
News

BANGKOK – The Philippines is closely watching activities in the South China Sea, particularly the Scarborough Shoal amid reports of China’s plan to build its first permanent structure in the disputed territory.

“The Philippine government is maintaining a regular close watch over Scarborough Shoal,” Foreign Affairs Acting Secretary Enrique Manalo told reporters here in a press briefing on Wednesday.

Concerns were raised after the reported plan of China to build an environmental monitoring station on Scarborough Shoal, off the coast of Zambales province.

Manalo said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has already sought clarification from China regarding the building of an environmental station in Scarborough.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs already issued or requested China for clarification on this reported plan. As I said it is only a reported plan so we’re seeking clarification with China but let me also say that in the meantime, the Philippine government is maintaining a regular close watch over Scarborough Shoal,” he said.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has said that the Philippine government should file a “strong Protest” against China’s building activity, which could lead to militarization in the disputed waters. Carpio urged Duterte to send the Philippine Navy to patrol in the Scarborough Shoal and invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty if China attacks the Philippines navy.

READ: Carpio tells Duterte: Defend PH shoal

Asked to comment on this, Manalo said the government has not filed any protest for now as it has to wait for China’s clarification.

“Ang masasabi ko lang ngayon (What I can say now) is that we have already approached China to seek clarification on this reported plan. And we have to wait for China’s reply,” he said.

Amid China’s intensified assertion of its maritime claims in the disputed waters, Manalo said Filipino fishermen were still free to go the area.

READ: China plan bad news for Filipino fishermen

“Well, there’s been no change. They can go there freely and that’s why we also have, as I said keeping it under close watch to see how things are going,” he said.

The foreign affairs official said his office has not received new reports of harassment on Filipino fishermen from Chinese vessels.

“We haven’t received any reports, I think. Kasi ang nagpupunta sa amin ‘yung reports ng mga (Because what we receive are reports from the) Coast Guard and security agencies. They have not given us any reports,” he said.

In a joint statement on Tuesday afternoon, President Rodrigo Duterte and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha have agreed to push for the completion of the framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea this year as the Philippines hosts the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in November.  

“Both sides emphasized the need for the full and effective implementation of the declaration of conduct of parties in the South China Sea and expressed determination to complete the framework of the Code of Conduct in 2017,” Duterte said in a joint statement with Prayut after their bilateral meeting at the Government House here.

READ: Duterte, Thai PM push for sea code completion

The President said maintaining peace and stability in the region, including the addressing the dispute on the South China Sea was high on their agenda.

“We both also stressed the need to maintain peace and stability in the region, including the South China Sea,” he said. “We recognized both that respect for freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea is in the interest of all countries within or outside the region.”

Thailand is not a claimant in any part of the South China Sea but Prayut, in his statement, said that international laws must be observed to resolve maritime issues in the disputed territories.

Besides China and the Philippines, Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims in the South China Sea.

In July 2016, the United Nations (UN) arbitral tribunal favored the Philippines’ diplomatic protest against China, saying there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within its nine-dash line. China has refused to recognize the ruling, calling it “a mere piece of paper.”

Duterte, in his public speeches has repeatedly said he won’t insist the ruling now, saying he was still rebuilding the Philippines’ strained relationship with China. But the President promised to raise the issue within his term. IDL

Read more: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/153721/ph-closely-monitoring-chinese-activities-scarborough-shoal#ixzz4c2IaXyBA
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 (Contains links to several previous articles on the South China Sea)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Japanese Navy Boosts Overseas Force Projection Capability With Second Big Helicopter Carrier

March 22, 2017

YOKOHAMA — Japan’s second big helicopter carrier, the Kaga, entered service on Wednesday, giving the nation’s military greater ability to deploy beyond its shores as it pushes back against China’s growing influence in Asia.

Accompanied by a military band, Maritime Self Defence Force commanders took possession of the 248 meter (813.65 ft) long vessel at the Japan Marine United shipyard in Yokohama near Tokyo, where it was docked next to its sister ship the Izumo.

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Japan: New escort ship Kaga goes into service — Photo taken on March 22, 2017, from a Kyodo News helicopter shows the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s newly-commissioned helicopter-based escort ship Kaga (front), at anchor in Yokohama, near Tokyo. Another escort vessel Izumo is seen on the center. (Kyodo)

“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,” Vice Minister of Defence Takayuki Kobayashi said at the ceremony attend by about 500 people

Japan’s two biggest warships since World War Two are potent symbols of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to give the military a bigger international role. They are designated as helicopter destroyers to keep within the bounds of a war-renouncing constitution that forbids possession of offensive weapons.

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Izumo

In its biggest show of naval power in foreign waters in more than 70 years, Japan plans to dispatch the Izumo in May on a three-month tour through the South China Sea, sources with knowledge of the plan told Reuters earlier.

China claims almost all the disputed waters through which around $5 trillion of global sea-borne trade passes each year. Beijing’s growing military presence there has fueled concern in Tokyo and Washington.

Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei also claim parts of the sea which has rich fishing grounds, oil and gas deposits. Japan has no claims there, but is locked in an territorial dispute with China over a group of islets in the neighboring East China Sea.

The addition of the Kaga means Japan will be able to mount overseas operations more often in the future. It will be based in Kure western Japan, which was home to Japan’s most famous World War Two battleship, the Yamato. The Izumo operates from Yokosuka near Tokyo, which is also where of the U.S. Seventh Fleet’s carrier, the Ronald Reagan is based.

The Japanese ships can operate up to nine helicopters each from their decks. They resemble the amphibious assault carriers used by U.S. Marines, but lack their well deck for launching landing craft and other vessels.

(Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly)

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Vietnam seeks South Korean support in South China Sea

March 20, 2017

Reuters

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se is welcomed by Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

Vietnam’s Prime Minister sought support for the nation’s stance in the South China Sea when he met South Korea’s foreign minister in Hanoi on Monday.

Vietnam is the country most openly at odds with China over the waterway since the Philippines pulled back from confrontation under President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The Prime Minister proposed that South Korea continue its support over the position of Vietnam and Southeast Asia on the South China Sea issue and to help the country improve its law enforcement at the sea”, the government said in a statement on its website after the meeting between Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.

The statement did not say whether South Korea backed Vietnam’s position on the South China Sea.

Yun did affirm his country’s willingness to promote ties despite instability in South Korea after the ousting of President Park Geun-hye over a graft scandal.

South Korea is Vietnam’s biggest foreign investor thanks to companies like Samsung.

South Korea and China are currently in dispute over deployment of the U.S. anti-missile defense system. South Korea on Monday has complained to the World Trade Organization about Chinese retaliation against its companies over the deployment.

Last week, Vietnam demanded China stop sending cruise ships to the area in response to one of Beijing’s latest moves to bolster its claims to the strategic waterway.

China claims 90 percent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the route, through which about $5 trillion of trade passes each year.

(Reporting by My Pham; Editing by Julia Glover)

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Tillerson Says Tougher Sanctions, Military Strike Among North Korea Options — Rejects Talks With North Korea on Nuclear Program

March 17, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says talks with North Korea haven’t worked

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Updated March 17, 2017 9:40 a.m. ET

SEOUL—U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that Washington wouldn’t engage in negotiations with North Korea and that a pre-emptive military strike and tougher sanctions were among the options on the table in dealing with Pyongyang.

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Mr. Tillerson’s remarks to reporters in Seoul were his most direct statements on North Korea since he was sworn in as Washington’s top diplomat last month. His words hint at a harder-line approach by the Trump administration against North Korea, which is closing in on the ability to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range ballistic missile.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Mr. Trump suggested he would consider a wide range of policies on North Korea, at one point calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a madman who had be stopped, and at another point suggesting that the two men discuss the issue over hamburgers.

After taking office, Mr. Trump launched a policy review on North Korea that is continuing. Plans for back-channel talks in New York between government representatives from North Korea and former U.S. officials were scuttled last month after the State Department withdrew visa approvals for Pyongyang’s top envoy on U.S. relations, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Tillerson, who is expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping this weekend at the end of a three-nation trip through East Asia, said he plans to raise concerns with Beijing over its perceived pressuring of South Korea related to a missile-defense system.

China strongly opposes Seoul’s decision to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, which is aimed at defending the South against missile threats from the North. In recent weeks, many in South Korea believe Beijing has clamped down on South Korean companies doing business in China. South Korea received the first components of the Thaad system earlier this month.

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Mr. Tillerson called China’s perceived actions against Thaad inappropriate and troubling. He said that China should be clamping down on the regional threat from its allies in North Korea rather than targeting South Korea.

“This is not the way for a regional power to help resolve what is a serious threat to everyone,” he said, referring to China. “We instead urge China to address the threat that makes Thaad necessary.”

Speaking at the same press conference, South Korea’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, described China’s actions as bullying that would be met with “clarity and resoluteness” by Washington and Seoul.

In Beijing, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said at a regular briefing on Friday that China had made efforts to promote dialogue between Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul, and declined to comment on Mr. Tillerson’s remarks ahead of his arrival in Beijing on Saturday.

With regard to sanctions, Mr. Tillerson said that there was more that the international community, including China, Russia and “a widening circle of allies,” could do to pressure North Korea.

“I don’t believe we have ever fully achieved the maximum level of action that can be taken under the U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he said. “We know other nations could take actions to alter their relationship with North Korea.”

He also dismissed the idea of negotiating with North Korea in hopes of freezing Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, saying that the North’s capabilities were advanced enough that a mere freeze would still leave it with the ability to threaten the U.S.’s allies and military bases in Northeast Asia.

“We do not believe the conditions are ripe to engage in any talks at this time,” Mr. Tillerson said. “I’m not sure if we would be willing to freeze with circumstances where they exist today.”

Mr. Tillerson hailed the alliance between Washington and Seoul, calling it a linchpin of peace in the region, echoing reassurances given by U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis during a visit to Seoul last month.

“Our commitment to this partnership will endure under the Trump administration,” Mr. Tillerson said. He added that South Korea’s removal of President Park Geun-hye last week wouldn’t affect the two countries’ relationship, pledging to work with the incoming government, which will take office in Seoul after an election in early May.

Mr. Tillerson’s remarks came a day after he slammed “20 years of failed approach” to North Korea during a meeting with Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, in Tokyo.

On Friday, Mr. Tillerson, who also met with South Korea’s acting president, Prime Minister Hwang Hyo-ahn, took aim at what he described as President Barack Obama’s inaction on North Korea, which he characterized as a policy of “strategic patience.”

“Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at jonathan.cheng@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/tillerson-calls-for-tighter-sanctions-against-north-korea-1489741089

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Rex Tillerson Rejects Talks With North Korea on Nuclear Program

SEOUL, South Korea — Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson ruled out on Friday opening any negotiation with North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programs and said for the first time that the Trump administration might be forced to take pre-emptive action “if they elevate the threat of their weapons program” to an unacceptable level.

Mr. Tillerson’s comments in Seoul, a day before he travels to Beijing to meet Chinese leaders, explicitly rejected any return to the bargaining table in an effort to buy time by halting North Korea’s accelerating testing program. The country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said on New Year’s Day that North Korea was in the “final stage of preparation for the first launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States.

The secretary of state’s comments were the Trump administration’s first public hint at the options being considered, and they made clear that none involved a negotiated settlement or waiting for the North Korean government to collapse.

“The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Mr. Tillerson said, a reference to the term used by the Obama administration to describe a policy of waiting out the North Koreans, while gradually ratcheting up sanctions and covert action.

Negotiations “can only be achieved by denuclearizing, giving up their weapons of mass destruction,” he said — a step to which the North committed in 1992, and again in subsequent accords, but has always violated. “Only then will we be prepared to engage them in talks.”

His warning on Friday about new ways to pressure the North was far more specific and martial sounding than during the first stop of his three-country tour, in Tokyo on Thursday. His inconsistency of tone may have been intended to signal a tougher line to the Chinese before he lands in Beijing on Saturday. It could also reflect an effort by Mr. Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, to issue the right diplomatic signals in a region where American commitment is in doubt.

Mr. Tillerson’s tougher line was echoed by President Trump on Twitter later Friday. “North Korea is behaving very badly,” he posted. “They have been “playing” the United States for years. China has done little to help!”

Almost exactly a year ago, when Mr. Trump was still a candidate, he threatened in an interview with The New York Times to pull troops back from the Pacific region unless South Korea and Japan paid a greater share of the cost of keeping them there. During Mr. Tillerson’s stops in South Korea and Japan, there was no public talk of that demand.

On Friday afternoon, after visiting the Demilitarized Zone and peering into North Korean territory in what has become a ritual for American officials making a first visit to the South, Mr. Tillerson explicitly rejected a Chinese proposal to get the North Koreans to freeze their testing in return for the United States and South Korea suspending all annual joint military exercises, which are now underway.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/17/world/asia/rex-tillerson-north-korea-nuclear.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fworld&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

Tillerson warns diplomacy has failed on North Korea

March 17, 2017

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has arrived in South Korea determined to find a “new approach” to North Korea after two decades of ‘failed efforts’ at its denuclearization. What that may mean is open to conjecture.

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Tillerson arrived at the heavily fortified border with North Korea, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), on Friday. The US Secretary of State said that 20 years of diplomatic efforts in relation to North Korea had “come to nothing.”

“In the face of this ever-escalating threat, it is clear that a different approach is required,” he told a news conference, his first as secretary of state. “Part of the purpose of my visit to the region is to exchange views on a new approach.”

He noted a period when the US provided North Korea with $1.35 billion (1.28 billion euros) in assistance “to take a different pathway,” adding that it had not worked.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a ballistic rocket launching drill in this undated photo.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a ballistic rocket launching drill in this undated photo. PHOTO: KCNA/REUTERS

Tillerson and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed this week that their two countries should share strategic goals to deal with Pyongyang’s growing nuclear missile threat.

Threats from the North

North Korea has a long-standing ambition to become a nuclear power and conducted its first underground atomic test in 2006, in the face of global opposition.

Four more tests have followed, two of them last year.

Pyongyang has continued to defy the international community, even after two rounds of UN-backed sanctions, and last week test-fired a salvo of missiles that fell in waters off Japan.

South Korea, meanwhile, has agreed to deploy a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system in South Korea.

After visiting the DMZ, Tillerson is due to meet Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is also acting president.

Tillerson began his first Asian visit as secretary of state in Japan on Wednesday and travels to China on Saturday.

‘Beijing could do more’

Washington has been pushing Beijing to do more to help reduce North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Tillerson is expected to tell the Chinese leadership that the US intends to increase missile defenses in the region, despite China’s opposition, a US official told the news agency Reuters in Washington.

He will also press the North’s key diplomatic protector and trade partner to back tougher sanctions. Beijing meanwhile has been angered by the deployment of the THAAD missile defence system in the South.

Watch video02:02

Tillerson creates waves in South China Sea

The South China Seas dispute

During his Senate confirmation hearing for secretary of state, Tillerson compared China’s island-building and deployment of military assets to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and suggesting China’s access to the islands should not be allowed.

The topic is likely to be high on the agenda when Tillerson visits Beijing for talks with top officials on Saturday and Sunday.

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

 http://www.dw.com/en/tillerson-warns-diplomacy-has-failed-on-north-korea/a-37979659

Watch video01:51

jbh/rt (Reuters, AP, AFP)

http://www.dw.com/en/tillerson-warns-diplomacy-has-failed-on-north-korea/a-37979659

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Vietnam demands China stop cruises in South China Sea

March 13, 2017

HANOI: Vietnam demanded on Monday that China stop sending cruise ships to the South China Sea in a response to one of Beijing’s latest steps to bolster its claims in the strategic waterway.

A Chinese cruise ship with more than 300 passengers visited the disputed Paracel Islands earlier this month.

“Vietnam strongly opposes this and demands that China respect Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and international law and immediately stop and not repeat those activities,” foreign ministry spokesperson Le Hai Binh told Reuters.

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Le Hai Binh, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry

“Those actions have seriously violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and international law.”

China claims 90 per cent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the sea, through which passes about US$5 trillion of trade a year.

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Countries competing to cement their rival claims have encouraged a growing civilian presence on disputed islands in the South China Sea. The first cruises from China to the Paracel islands were launched by Hainan Strait Shipping Co in 2013.

The Paracels are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

A new Chinese cruise ship has embarked on its maiden voyage to the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, state news agency Xinhua said on Friday, the latest effort by Beijing to bolster its claims in the strategic waterway.

The Changle Princess sailed from Sanya on the southern Chinese island province of Hainan on Thursday afternoon with 308 passengers on a four-day voyage, Xinhua said.

The new ship can carry 499 people and has 82 guest rooms with dining, entertainment, shopping, medical and postal services on board, it added.

Tourists will be able to visit the three islands in the Crescent group of the Paracels, Xinhua said.

China has previously said it plans to build hotels, villas and shops on the Crescent group and has also said it wants to build Maldives-style resorts around the South China Sea, though it is unclear if foreigners will ever be allowed to visit.

China claims 90 percent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the sea, through which passes about $5 trillion of trade a year.

Countries competing to cement their rival claims have encouraged a growing civilian presence on disputed islands in the South China Sea. The first cruises from China to the Paracel islands were launched by Hainan Strait Shipping Co in 2013.

The Paracels are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast)