Posts Tagged ‘Malaysia’

Military base-building destroys coral reefs in the South China Sea

March 28, 2017

 

26 March 2017 / Analysis by Greg Asner
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Greg Asner, a global ecologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, writes about his recent field survey in the Spratly Islands.
Sea turtle in a coral garden in the Spratly Islands. Photo by Greg Asner.

As I reached the surface, I could hardly believe my eyes. The black shadow of the vessel turned, revealing its distinct cigar-shaped profile. Seeing a submarine at sea with a scuba tank on your back is like pricking yourself on a needle lost in a very big haystack. But the South China Sea is not your average haystack, and nothing seems to be lost out in its vast expanse.

The South China Sea stretches from the coast of mainland China to the shores of Borneo, Vietnam, and Philippines. The southern part is a huge blue water world dotted with remote atolls and islands known as the Spratly Islands, named after whaler Richard Spratly who ‘discovered’ them in 1843. The Spratlys have many other names in the languages of nations that encircle the South China Sea, an expression of the long-standing strain between multiple claimants of the region. Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam each claim a portion of the Spratly archipelago, and China claims all of it.

Fig 1. The Spratly Islands are located in the southern portion of the South China Sea.
Figure 1: The Spratly Islands are located in the southern portion of the South China Sea.

The region has also become a hotbed for modern naval activity, owing to critical commercial shipping through its waters, and the oil that underlies its seabed. The U.S. routinely navigates the South China Sea as a demonstration of its naval power, said to ensure right-of-passage, and which China openly views as a threat. And as a result, military base and outpost building continues at a feverish and ecologically destructive pace. Whole coral reef atolls have been dredged to form hard land for military complexes and aircraft runways.

As a global ecologist and conservation scientist, I have long been interested in the Spratlys as a biodiversity hotspot. With its purported 600 coral and 6000 fish species, I had wondered what this ecoregion looks like underwater, and more recently, what the frenzied building of military bases might mean for its sea life. I wondered too if coral reefs of the Spratlys had been impacted by recent hot water events that cause coral bleaching, like that which has devastated the Great Barrier Reef.

There isn’t nearly enough scientific literature on the ecology of the Spratlys, but it has been shown that the atolls are important sources of coral larvae for that part of the South China Sea. Each atoll is a habitat for connected layers of lifeforms ranging from corals and invertebrates to huge schools of hammerhead sharks and bottlenose dolphins. Each layer relies on the presence and health of the next layer, and the coral reefs form a critical core for the regional ecosystem as a whole

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In March 2016, Camilo Mora and colleagues published a report on military base building across the Spratlys. In the same month, I was working on the northern tip of Borneo, east of the Spratlys, and I decided to expand our mapping efforts into the archipelago. I wanted to better understand what is being lost with each military base conversion of a Spratly atoll. By May 2016, I got a chance to visit one of the atolls in the southeast corner of the archipelago.

Known as Swallow Reef, or Pulau Layang Layang by the Malaysian government that administers it, the atoll is an amoeba-shaped ring of reef that drops off more than 3000 meters into deep ocean (Fig 2). In one corner of the atoll lies a small Royal Malaysian navy outpost, manned with a few patrol vessels. Alongside the outpost is a place where diehard divers can spend time exploring some of the most unique and endangered coral reef ecosystems on Earth. Moving down in the water column at Swallow Reef is like slicing through a psychedelic layer cake that would impress Willy Wonka lovers. The outer reef is replete with millions and millions of colorful specks of life, hard and soft corals, schools of jacks, batfish, barracuda, and more, each contributing to an ecosystem patrolled by giant mantas and sharks. Picture what you think a perfect coral reef ecosystem might look like, well before the global degradation of reefs that started with the industrial revolution, and that will put you at Swallow Reef.

Swallow Reef atoll is administered by the Malaysian government, and houses a small navy base and diving facility (top image). A view of the atoll from the runway on Swallow Reef, as a tropical storm approaches in 2016 (bottom image)
Figure 2: Swallow Reef atoll is administered by the Malaysian government, and houses a small navy base and diving facility. Courtesy of Planet (top image). A view of the atoll from the runway on Swallow Reef, as a tropical storm approaches in 2016 (bottom image)

My initial visit to Swallow Reef yielded thousands of photographs and video. It also sparked the idea to combine rapid underwater surveys with a new class of satellite imaging that might give us a fast-track way to assess coral reefs on more atolls than we could possibly visit in the water. To do this, I turned to my colleagues at Planet.com, formerly known as Planet Labs. They operate the world’s largest constellation of small orbiting satellites that can image Earth on a daily basis at about 3 to 5 meter spatial resolution. As one of Planet’s science Ambassadors, I collaborate with the company to apply their satellite data to new environmental challenges, so the Spratlys were a perfect fit.

Planet’s constellation of ‘Dove’ satellites can give us a daily viewing of the South China Sea, which is critical since the region is naturally very cloudy. By selecting cloud-free images that were available shortly before and after my initial visit to Swallow Reef, my collaborators Robin Martin from Carnegie, Joe Mascaro from Planet, and I were able to align the satellite images with our near-realtime understanding of reef composition and condition. Martin and I returned to Swallow Reef in July to complete an intensive series of additional underwater surveys, which when combined with the Planet Dove data in the field, helped us to determine that we can easily map the extent of coral reef. We were also able to map some of the deeper reefs. Our overall mapping accuracy ultimately exceeded 90 percent.

From the Swallow Reef pilot study, we extended the mapping approach to all of the atolls currently occupied by China, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam – the four countries most present throughout the region. We compared the proportion of coral reef on occupied atolls to unoccupied ones, and found up to 70 percent reduction in coral reef cover on those with military bases (Asner et al. 2017). In other words, military base and outpost building has destroyed huge expanses of coral reef, which means that millions of its colorful lifeforms have been wiped off the planet.

Figure 3. Proportion of shallow coral reef cover on unoccupied versus occupied atolls in the Spratly Islands, South China Sea, organized by current occupying nation.
Figure 3. Proportion of shallow coral reef cover on unoccupied versus occupied atolls in the Spratly Islands, South China Sea, organized by current occupying nation.

Shockingly, the vast majority of this loss has taken place in just the past three years. Yet promising is the fact that there are still a hundred or so reefs with relatively little human impact, so conservation and management ought to have a chance to make a difference before it is too late. Also promising is the fact that recent coral bleaching events do not seem to have had as large an impact in the South China Sea as we have seen on the Great Barrier Reef. I experienced very little bleaching during our survey dives at Swallow Reef. As Professor John McManus, University of Miami, has long emphasized based on his work in the region, a promising pathway forward to protecting the remaining coral reefs of the South China Sea rests in the development of an international peace park agreement between nations. Based on our recent experience with Planet Dove satellites and diving, time is of the essence to get a park-style accord accomplished.

School of barracuda on a Spratly Island atoll. Photo by Greg Asner.
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https://news.mongabay.com/2017/03/military-base-building-destroys-coral-reefs-in-the-south-china-sea/

Notes and References

For more photos of reef inhabitants of the South China Sea, go to http://divephoto.org

Asner, G., Martin, R. & Mascaro, J. Coral reef atoll assessment in the South China Sea using Planet Dove satellites. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, 1-9, doi:10.1002/res2.42 (2017).

Mora, C., Caldwell, I. R., Birkeland, C. & McManus, J. W. Dredging in the Spratly Islands: Gaining Land but Losing Reefs. PLoS Biol 14, e1002422 (2016).

Related:

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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.

China Steps In Where U.S. is Absent in Asia

March 28, 2017

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

 

China is building its influence in Asia more by default than design, making the region’s power brokers nervous as the U.S. retreats.

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Updated March 28, 2017 6:06 a.m. ET

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…

https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-drifts-into-a-u-s-vacuum-in-asia-1490695181

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China Touts Its Own Trade Pact as U.S.-Backed One Withers
https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-touts-its-own-trade-pact-as-u-s-backed-one-withers-1479811275

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From Sputnik

Is China Filling the Economic Vacuum in the Pacific?

© REUTERS/ David Gray

“The bilateral relationship between China and the United States is the single most important one for the prosperity and security and stability of the world, and the fact that we have very strong relationships, but different relationships — different in context and in terms of history — with both the United States and China, that is a great strength.”

Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Picture: AAP

Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Picture: AAPSource:AAP

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Premier Li agreed, saying China-Australia co-operation was not targeted “at any third party” and would benefit other countries and regions

“It is China’s consistent position that all countries, big or small, are equal members of the world, and there needs to be mutual respect and co-operation on an equal footing,” Premier Li said.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is visiting Australia and New Zealand this week, while US relations with Australia cool over the migrant deal negotiated by the former US administration. Will China fill the vacuum in the region? Radio Sputnik’s Brian Becker invited China expert Keith Bennett to discuss the issue.

China Expected to Import $8 Trillion Worth of Goods in 2016-2020

US President Donald Trump’s relations with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had a rough start. During their first phone talk, an apparently emotional exchange, Trump declined to fulfill the deal negotiated by the administration of former President Barack Obama in which the US pledged to take more than 1,000 immigrants from Australian detention centers.

“The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal,” Trump tweeted after the phone call to Turnbull, which he reportedly ended abruptly

In general, it becomes more and more likely that the US is disconnecting itself from active foreign policy and concentrating on its internal affairs. This allows for other nations to seek new opportunities for trade that had been unavailable for them. One might think the time is ripe for China to approach the Pacific with propositions of trade.

However, China already is significantly involved in trade with New Zealand and Australia, according to China expert Keith Bennett.

“China has very good relations with the two countries, at least on the economic level,” Bennet told Becker. “Politically, it’s more complicated, but this is not an unprecedented visit.”

According to various data from open sources, China’s share in New Zealand trade seems to be already twice as big as that of the US. The same goes for Australia, whose exports to China are several times larger than those to the US.

This creates a complicated situation in which Australia is a close military ally of the US, but its economic interests naturally go along with China and other Pacific nations, says Bennett.

“There is a dichotomy between the economic factor and a political and military security factor,” he says.

According to Bennett, the United States relies heavily on political and military force to prevent Australia’s drift towards China, even using political means to organize a “soft coup” to get rid of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The Obama administration also increased its military presence in Australia for the very same purpose: to send a signal to Australia not to get too friendly with China, Benett explains.

Given all that, it would be hard to imagine a sharp move by Australia toward China, but there are signs it could happen under the Trump administration. The United States under Trump seems to be stepping back from its role of global director of trade and finances — at least for capitalist countries — a role the US has taken since 1945 Bretton Woods agreement. Bennet said this shift by the US could create a situation in the Pacific in which close trade ties of those nations with China could finally result in corresponding political closeness.

“What we are entering is a very unstable period of convulsion and realignment,” Bennet noted. “So it’s hard to make predictions, but I think… that economic changes will come first and political changes will have to catch up.”

https://sputniknews.com/asia/201703251051966155-china-new-zealand-australia-trade/

See also:

http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/leaders/chinese-premier-meets-with-malcolm-turnbull-downplays-south-china-sea-tensions/news-story/bb41415200c089f62847e2c9b2ab0c9f

China’s Plan For Asia and Onward To Iran — Involves Domination on Land and Sea — “Without firing a shot. That’s Sun Tzu.”

March 26, 2017

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China’s “One Belt, One Road” master plan for Asian land and sea trade starts and ends with China itself.

Vietnamese in Hanoi are already starting to chit chat about what to do when Vietnam becomes a Chinese province.

Vietnamese with money and other assets are already heading to Canada, Australia, Europe and the U.S.

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President Duterte in the Philippines seems to have some kind of secret accord with China. There must be a big chunk of gold or currency hidden for Duterte somewhere.

Our sources in Asia tell us everyone with resources is taking an angle to make what they can from the notoriously corrupt Chinese in case there is a bloodless takeover by China.

The Chinese are already fortifying the South China Sea, intimidating Singapore, and moving in with Malaysia.  Maybe Mr. Najab can have his 1MDB debt “fixed” by Chinese backers….

Pakistan is already prepared to stand with China as the Indian Ocean Super Power.

Iran has helped China and Russia immensely in Syria, Yemen, North Korea and elsewhere. Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal took worries about Iran as a dangerous nuclear power out of the headlines as they hone their ground and sea forces and perfect the Republican Guards. They are still a dangerous nuclear power. Just more discrete — or below the radar in the nuclear research arena.

Isreal seems to have fewer and fewer friends.

Yet Donald Trump pledged to stand behind Israel.

But he also pledged to repeal and replace Obamacare — so let’s wait and see what he is really able to accomplish….

From the Peace and Freedom Strategy Team, March 26, 2017

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Related:

 (Chinese Naval Base)

Geo News screen grab
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What is China’s Plan For Asia? —

March 26, 2017

Moved to:

https://johnib.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/chinas-plan-for-asia-and-onward-to-iran-involves-domination-on-land-and-sea-without-firing-a-shot-thats-sun-tzu/

 

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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 — 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)

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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Why are Chinese moving to Malaysia by the thousands?

March 25, 2017

With an election looming, the country’s often fraught race relations are as complicated as ever, but that hasn’t dented its appeal to a ‘third wave’ of immigrants from China

BY TASHNY SUKUMARANCOCO LIU

South China Morning Post
25 MAR 2017

Paul Ying Qian, 32, first tried durian when he was 10 years old in his home town of Hunan ( 湖南 ), China. A family friend had sent his mother the pungent fruit, which the whole family enjoyed. Paul tried durian again when he was studying in Australia, but it was expensive and didn’t match the taste in his memory.

Now he lives in durian-obsessed Malaysia, but it isn’t the fruit that brought him here. It was the temperate weather, cleaner air and mix of Asian values and Western infrastructure. “It’s easy to join in the culture here, and not feel like a total outsider. The different races get on well, and it’s quite near China – much nearer than Australia. The education is good, and the country maintains its traditional face while also experiencing development. Back home the seasons are very dramatic with extremely hot summers and very cold winters. Malaysians are very friendly. I feel this is a good place for my next generation.”

Paul Ying Qian and his wife moved from China to Malaysia as part of the Malaysia My Second Home programme in 2009. Both of his young children were born in Malaysia.

Paul, who gained his residency through the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme, is one of thousands who have settled under the scheme. He has been here since 2009, and his two children, aged one and three, were born in Malaysia.

“I travel between here and China, spending about four months a year in my home town Wuhan (武漢) to take care of the family business. My wife Sophy stays in Malaysia with the kids,” he said.

He discovered Malaysia thanks to his father, who travelled the region in his youth.

“He went to Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia. He liked it best and moved here when he was older. After I completed my undergraduate degree in Australia, I came here to do an MBA and stayed on. My parents actually live in the same building as me,” he said, pointing to the tall tower behind him ensconced in the leafy upmarket suburb of Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur.

Paul and his family are comfortable in the nation’s capital, even with MM2H’s no-work clause. His real estate and wholesale business dealings in China allow him to support his family, while he has also invested in the Malaysian hotel industry. And in his spare time he and his family go on road trips, travelling to hawker haven Penang or idyllic Langkawi just because they can.

The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in George Town on Penang Island. Photo: Travel Post Magazine

Although Malaysia has a history of mistreating migrants, particularly refugees and foreign workers, those under the MM2H scheme are considered “expats”, an elite, high-earning group.

The scheme allows successful applicants largely unrestricted travel into and out of Malaysia as well as various incentives and tax exemptions. However, it comes with stringent eligibility criteria as well: liquid assets of 350,000 Malaysian ringgit (HK$615,000) to 500,000 ringgit, fixed deposits and a minimum price cap on purchasing property so as to curb speculation.

In 2016, more than 1,000 Chinese signed up for the scheme, fleeing the freezing cold winters and dangerous pollution levels of their homeland – 43.9 per cent of applicants were Chinese, with Japanese a distant second at 9.2 per cent.

Chinese have shown the most interest in the scheme. Official government statistics put the number of successful Chinese applicants at 7,967 from 2002 to 2016, out of a total of 31,732 successful applicants from around the world – 25.1 per cent of the share.

Malaysia is experiencing a “third wave” of Chinese migration – after a 15th century influx and a tin mining boom in the 19th century – these days that isn’t at all limited to just MM2H participants, but also includes foreign workers, some of whom are undocumented. A fair number of these migrant workers are usually employed in low-skilled sectors such as construction or factory lines. Recently, 127 Chinese nationals were rounded up by the Sarawak Immigration Department and 16 of them lacked valid travel documents.

China’s Ambassor to Malaysia Huang Huikang. Photo: Handout

This influx of Chinese migration comes at a time when Malaysia’s often fraught race relations are more complicated than ever, with a general election – always a good time for race to be made a political football – looming. In 2015, a pro-Malay protest with anti-Chinese sentiments drew the ire of Ambassador Huang Huikang, who said China would not ignore “infringement on China’s national interests or violations of legal rights and interests of Chinese citizens and businesses”, reported the media.

However, MM2H applicants brush aside such concerns, reporting friendliness from the Malaysians they meet. Since many divide time between China, where they deal with business obligations, and Malaysia, any concerns about racial tensions are lessened as they have someplace else to go.

Hu Xiaolong, 65, moved to Malaysia from Shanghai to be closer to his daughter after she married a Malaysian. Before he became part of the MM2H programme, he could not stay for longer than a month.

“I now spend a few months in Shanghai and a few months in Malaysia visiting my daughter. I found Malaysia a nice place for the elderly, so my wife and I bought an apartment in Kuala Lumpur,” he said.

Young drummers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo: AP

“Kuala Lumpur is nicely developed and everything is still quite cheap. Much cheaper than Shanghai. I have travelled to over 30 countries and I think Malaysia is a good fit for me. Chinese can live harmoniously with Malays and Indians here. There is no conflict among different ethnic groups.”

The only problem, he says, is when his wife tries to order food with her limited command of English. “But that’s why she usually goes for buffets,” he noted wryly.

Hu said he had urged friends to sell their properties in China and move to Malaysia.

“I told a friend that if he sells his apartment in Shanghai, he can buy a luxury home in Kuala Lumpur and still have some money left. My friend refused, saying that his social circle is still in China. But some friends are considering the second home scheme and they want to come here to have a look.”

Sea-view apartments are hard to come by in Shanghai, but not in Penang, Malaysia. Photo; iStockphoto

Hu Yiqing, 48, fell in love with the sea when she visited her aunt in the island state of Penang. “You could see the sea from her home. We are from Shanghai and it’s rare to have a sea-view apartment in Shanghai. She told us about the scheme so once we went back to China, we immediately started applying … We filed all the papers in May and by August we relocated to Penang.”

Penang’s laid-back vibe appealed to homemaker Hu and her husband, who runs a financial services company. They do not miss the bad traffic and poor air quality in Shanghai.

She said her husband split his time between Penang and Shanghai. “If we had a better internet connection my husband would stay the whole year. But even now, we still don’t want to go back to China,” she said, adding that the pair and their son integrated into local life quickly due to the high number of Chinese-speaking Malaysians in Penang.

“There are so many Chinese that you can integrate into the society easily. My friends are from Chinese parents in international schools or Chinese from local churches.”

Hu said her son could go to an international school for half the price of Shanghai. “The education quality is pretty much the same – in fact, I like the international school in Penang better. In Shanghai, even if you study in an international school, kids are still being pushed by teachers to study hard and compete with each other. I disagree with their way of teaching.”

Visitors walk past a giant rooster installation as part of the Chinese Lunar new year celebrations in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: AP

She has praised the scheme to her friends, many of whom are now applying.

“So many Chinese have been coming to Penang. It’s hard for children to enrol in an international school now. They are all packed.”

Retiree Maurice Choy, 55, left Hong Kong for Malaysia because of its weather and reasonable cost of living. Fishing, swimming and badminton are on his list of priorities.

“I travelled to Malaysia many times over the last 20 years for work and holiday, and I found Penang a nice place to retire. I bought an apartment there several years ago and applied for the scheme. This month I will settle permanently in Malaysia with my wife.

The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo: Shutterstock

“Malaysia is much more affordable than Hong Kong. It’s easy for us to have a high-quality life with our pension. The weather is good, too. I actually migrated to Canada 10 years ago but had to come back because I’m not used to cold weather. The weather in Penang is good the whole year round.”

Despite Malaysia’s tendencies towards xenophobia and its sometimes strained race relations – balik Cina (go back to China) and apa lagi Cina mau (what more do the Chinese want) are slurs sometimes hurled at the Malaysian-Chinese community – these migrants appear shielded from it all or have not encountered such unpleasantness. Many MM2H participants have praised Malaysia for its friendliness.

However, some Malaysians wonder how the country benefits from the programme. “In terms of cultural impact, it honestly depends on how the incoming Chinese population behave in a social setting. There won’t be a large economic impact unless a huge number come in with enough capital to invest in business,” said Hafidz Baharom, 34, the former communications head for the Malay Economic Action Council.

How Malaysia’s golden goose of ecotourism, Sabah, keeps the visitors coming

Accountant Tarsem Singh, 31, said that because MM2H minimum property thresholds were high, most programme applicants would only be able to buy homes that were out of the reach for most Malaysians. The minimums include 2 million Malaysian ringgit in Selangor and 1 million Malaysian ringgit in Kuala Lumpur. In Penang , on the island it is 1 million Malaysian ringgit for a condominium and 3 million Malaysian ringgit for landed properties.

Langkawi, Malaysia, offers many outdoor adventures, including excursions along its many rivers. Photo: Post Magazine

“I am not sure how we benefit, other than property developers who get to sell their expensive homes,” Singh said, adding that immigration priorities should focus on young and skilled migrants to stimulate wealth creation and prevent brain drain. This was echoed by independent analyst Khoo Kay Peng: “Most who come here are retirees or run smaller businesses. The high net worth individuals prefer the US or Australia and other OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries.”

While MM2H is a good programme, lawyer Ong Yu Jian, 35, said that it needs to be kept in check with policies that limit artificial growth. His home state, Penang, recently raised the minimum price cap for foreigners purchasing property.

“In the short term, it boosts growth and makes the numbers on any economic paper look good. But the potential long-term trade-off may be the displacement of our own locals in terms of economic footholds and nation-building. If the Chinese do so, it may cause resentment and heightened tensions,” he said.

Formed more than half a billion years ago, Langkawi has a unique ecology; Gunung Matchincang, one of the island’s peaks, was the first part of Southeast Asia to rise from the seabed during the Cambrian period. Photo: Post Magazine

Malaysian Chinese Association Youth Chief Chong Sin Woon, however, dismissed the possibility of racial tension, saying that such animosities were the domain of a tiny minority of extremists.

“It’s a small group of radicals who harp on about this issue. Generally we are accepting of these migrants.”

Analyst Hwok-Aun Lee, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, agreed, attributing this to biases based on economic standing.

“Unfortunately, humankind tends to discriminate immigrants by class, viewing highly qualified and wealthy entrants more favourably.

“At the same time, opulent immigrants can also breed resentment. I would like to see a greater emphasis on human rights and dignity, mutual respect and appreciation of diversity, and conscious efforts to avoid group alienation or enclaves separated from society,” he said.

Faisal Hazis, of the National University of Malaysia’s Asian Studies Centre, warned that Malaysians might “not be comfortable with a glut of foreigners coming to Malaysia and potentially doing business or eating into the market. If this happens it may strain the relations between Malaysians – regardless of race – and Chinese nationals.”

Why Malaysia is fighting Singapore over a rock

And although the programme promises investment opportunities along with lower costs of living and tax-exempt offshore incomes, many participants, such as housewife Zhang Wei, 40, just want room to breathe.

“We used to live in Beijing. Air quality is so bad that my two kids couldn’t spend much time outdoors. Now my kids can spend a lot of time outdoors. They are happy, so am I.”

Last August she settled in Putrajaya, the country’s administrative capital, after deciding against the US due to its distance from China where her husband has business dealings.

Malaysia, she said, was better for living than for working or investment.

“Some of my friends have businesses in Malaysia so they want to live here, like a friend who runs a tourist company specialising in bringing Chinese newlyweds here for honeymoons,” she said.

“But I don’t think the business environment here is that great and I didn’t see any good investment opportunities. When we decide where to invest, we need to compare it with China. If there is an opportunity, we will invest – but we are still looking.”

http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/geopolitics/article/2080869/why-are-chinese-moving-malaysia-thousands

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

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.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor and water

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)