Posts Tagged ‘South China Sea’

Philippines: Duterte Government Says Human Rights Watch is At Fault — Doesn’t Understand Mass Murder of Filipino Drug People

March 27, 2017

Philippines accuses HRW of cultural insensitivity over stinging drug war criticism

Agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) escort alleged drug suspects in a continuing raid at an informal settlers’ community inside the sprawling compound of a public cemetery Thursday, March 16, 2017 in suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines. The drug raid came at a time that a Philippine lawmaker has filed an impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte for the thousands of deaths in his anti-drug crackdown and for alleged corruption. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez
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MANILA, Philipines — Malacañang Monday denied the claim of a Human Rights Watch (HRW) official that President Rodrigo Duterte has “contempt for lives” as it accused the group of “deep insensitivity to others’ cultures.”
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HRW deputy director for Asia Phelim Kine claimed in an online post on Sunday that Duterte has finally acknowledged that his campaign against drugs is “in fact a war on the poor”
Kine said Duterte employed a “grotesque logic” and that his crackdown on illegal drugs showed his “contempt for lives.” Majority of the 7,000 people who died because of the drug war were urban slum dwellers, he added.
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“Duterte’s admission ends the perverse fiction that he and his government have sought to perpetuate over the past nine months that the victims of the drug war – many of whose bodies are found on street corners wrapped in packing tape, riddled with bullets or perforated with stab wounds – have been ‘drug lords,’” the HRW official said in a Twitter post.
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Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella denied Kine’s statements and asked the HRW not to meddle with the Philippines’ internal affairs.
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Since Mr. Duterte took office last June and declared a “war” on drugs, the police and unknown assassins have killed more than 3,600 people, the police say, mostly in the slums of Philippine cities. Some put the toll at more than 7,000.

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A man suspected of dealing drugs shot dead after a “buy and bust” operation in Quezon City in September. Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

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“Nothing can be farther from the truth than the HRW accusation that President Duterte has ‘contempt for lives.’  In fact, eight out of ten Filipinos living in Metro Manila now feel safer and more secure under his administration,” Abella said, referring to a Pulse Asia survey conducted last December.
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“HRW and similar other organizations should, therefore, be more circumspect about meddling in the country’s domestic affairs. Their lack of appreciation of the context and local reality show a deep insensitivity to other cultures,” he added.
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Abella also denied that the anti-drug war is targeting the poor.
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“The war on drugs is not targeted at any particular segment of society.  However, the most prevalent drug in the Philippines is shabu, dubbed as poor man’s cocaine,” Duterte’s spokesman said.
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“The supply, largely from outside the Philippines, is in great demand from users and distributors both coming from poor families.  Poverty, however, does not justify the use and selling of shabu,” he added.
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Abella said Duterte would continue to clean up the streets of drug users, pushers and dealers “regardless of their socioeconomic status in life.”
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HRW, a watchdog based in New York, previously said that the Philippines is in the midst of a “human rights calamity” because of drug-related killings. The group also accused the police of carrying out the extrajudicial killings of drug suspects and planting evidence in crime scenes.
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Duterte has denied endorsing summary executions but encouraged policemen to shoot drug suspects if they feel that their lives are in danger. The president also vowed to continue clamping down on illegal drugs until the last drug pusher is out of the streets.
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READ: Duterte brings back police into war on drugs

Alleged drug personalities are being shot to death in Metro Manila and other parts of the Philippines in a program condemned by Amnesty International and other groups.. STAR/Joven Cagande
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 (Includes commentary by former President of Columbia Gaviria)

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China upset as Japanese minister visits self-ruled Taiwan — Most senior Japanese gov’t official in 45 years visits Taiwan — “Nothing China hates more than anybody talking to Taiwan…”

March 27, 2017

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 KYODO

Senior Vice Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Jiro Akama

Most senior Japanese official in 45 years pays visit to Taiwan

Senior Vice Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Jiro Akama visited Taiwan on Saturday, becoming the most senior government official to visit the island since the two sides severed diplomatic ties in 1972.

Although Akama is in Taiwan to attend a two-day event promoting Japanese culture and tourism, some expressed concern that his visit is likely to upset China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting unification, by force if necessary.

Welcoming Akama to Taiwan, Chiou I-jen, president of the Association of East Asian Relations, Taiwan’s semi-official agency for handling relations with Japan, said at the opening ceremony for the event that “it was not easy” for Akama to make the trip and that he had to “go through many difficulties.”

“Both Taiwan and Japan face many difficulties,” Chiou said. “But because we both face the same difficulties, it only shows how closely connected we are.”

Later, when asked about the difficulties he meant, he replied: “Isn’t that a rhetorical question?” Asked whether he could mention the obvious answer, he gave his trademark smile and said, “I will not tell.”

Through a translator, Akama avoided similar questions but acknowledged that Japanese officials sometimes encounter difficulties if they have to travel abroad.

When asked whether he received any pressure from China before making the trip, Akama said, “There was no big problem” but added it was rather difficult that he had to “factor in many international situations before making the final decision,” without elaborating.

Akama also urged the Taiwanese media to promote Japanese tourism and food.

He said he hopes his visit will help the Taiwanese public better understand that many food products from the region hit hardest by the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis have passed strict examinations and are safe to consume.

Taiwan and Japan continue to enjoy a close relationship despite the lack of official ties. Since severing diplomatic relations in 1972, the two sides have signed more than 60 trade deals, including a landmark fisheries agreement inked in April 2013 to mollify Taipei after Japan effectively nationalized the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed as Tiaoyutai by Taiwan and Diaoyu by China.

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Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China

Since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May last year, her administration has expressed hope of bringing bilateral relations to a higher level.

In January, Japan’s de facto diplomatic establishment, the Interchange Association, changed its name to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association. It was not surprising that the move angered Beijing, which urged Japan to uphold the “One China” principle, refrain from creating new disturbances in China-Japan ties and from sending a wrong message to Taiwan and the international community.

To reciprocate Japan’s goodwill, Taiwan Foreign Minister David Lee revealed earlier this month that Taiwan will change the name of the ministry-linked Association of East Asian Relations.

The ministry has also been negotiating with Tokyo on changing the name of Taiwan’s representative office in Japan, Lee said.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/03/25/national/politics-diplomacy/senior-japanese-official-45-years-pays-visit-taiwan/#.WNjfczsrKUl

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Reuters

Mon Mar 27, 2017 | 4:20am EDT

China said on Monday it has complained to Japan after a Japanese minister visited self-ruled Taiwan over the weekend, warning this could hurt relations between Beijing and Tokyo.

Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said Deputy Minister Jiro Akama went to Taiwan to attend a tourism promotion event in his official capacity, leaving Japan last Friday and returning the following day.

Japanese media said Akama was the highest-level government official to officially visit Taiwan since Japan broke diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1972 and established them with Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the visit clearly ran contrary to Japan’s promises to only have non-governmental and local level exchanges with Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province.

“China is resolutely opposed to this and has already made solemn representations to Japan,” Hua told a daily news briefing.

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Hua Chunying, China’s foreign ministry

Japan has said it respects its promises on the Taiwan but actually it has been provocative, she added.

“This has caused serious disturbance to the improvement of Sino-Japanese ties.”

Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of a civil war with the Communists. China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.

Taiwan is a core interest of China’s that can’t be challenged and Japan should recognize the seriousness of it, stop being “two-faced” and not go any further down the wrong path, Hua said.

Japanese broadcaster NHK showed Akama arriving at Taipei airport, telling reporters there will be no change in Japan-China or Japan-Taiwan ties.

China expressed dissatisfaction in December after Japan’s de facto embassy in Taiwan said it would change its name to include the word Taiwan.

Japan, like most countries in the world, maintains only informal relations with Taiwan while it has diplomatic, if uneasy, ties with Beijing.

Beijing has repeatedly urged Japan to show greater repentance for World War Two atrocities and the two sides have a festering territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

However, Japan’s 1895-1945 rule in Taiwan is seen by some as having been good for the island’s development, unlike perceptions of Japan in other parts of Asia, particularly in China and Korea, which are often deeply negative.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Ami Miyazaki in Tokyo; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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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 (Chinese Naval Base)

Geo News screen grab
Geo News screen grab

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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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

 

 

South China Sea, Fishing

March 26, 2017

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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.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ADAM DEAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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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.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ADAM DEAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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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.
PHOTOGRPAH BY ADAM DEAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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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.

 

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

March 26, 2017

A sea in peril

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

MARCH 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High stakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talks bring hope

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

But another development points to potential conflict.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South China Sea disputed islands

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Southerland is the former executive editor of Radio Free Asia

 

Related:

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

National Geographic:

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

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

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

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

Vietnamese fishing boat Captain Tran Van Quang

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

A green sea turtle.(Reuters)

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

 (Has links to many related conservation and environmental articles)

 (Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports)

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing and outdoor

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

 

 (August 25, 2016)

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and water

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

 (Contains links to several related articles)

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

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

 

 

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

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor and water

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

 

 

‘Devastating’ coral loss in South China Sea – scientists

March 25, 2017

BBC News

Coral bleaching at the Dongsha AtollImage copyrightTHOMAS DECARLO
Image captionCoral bleaching at the Dongsha Atoll

Scientists are warning of another “devastating” loss of coral due to a spike in sea temperatures.

They say 40% of coral has died at the Dongsha Atoll in the South China Sea.

Nothing as severe has happened on Dongsha for at least 40 years, according to experts.

Anne Cohen of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, US, said the high water temperatures of 2015/16 were devastating for reef systems globally, including Dongsha.

Coral bleaching – where corals turn white and may die – was the worst on record for Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef in 2016.

The barrier reef has absorbed a lot of the attention, but other reefs around the world were also severely affected, said Dr Cohen.

“The 2015/2016 El Nino was devastating for reef systems in other parts of the world as well, including Dongsha Atoll and reefs in the central Pacific, where some of the most pristine coral reefs are located and of course, the US Pacific Remote Marine National Monument,” she said. “We observed devastating bleaching in that area as well.”

Only last week, scientists published observations of three major die-offs of coral at the Great Barrier Reef in 2016, 2002 and 1998.

They concluded that the only way to preserve the world’s coral reefs is to take drastic action to reduce global warming.

The study of the Dongsha Atoll, reported in the journal, Scientific Reports, echoes this finding.

The Dongsha Atoll is part of a marine national park
Dongsha Atoll is part of a marine national park. GETTY IMAGES

“Based on what we observed on Dongsha, a 2 degree cap on ocean warming may not be enough to save coral reefs,” Dr Cohen told BBC News.

“This is because coral reefs are shallow water ecosystems and a tweak in the local weather can turn that 2 degrees Celsius into a 6 degrees Celsius warming.”

The Dongsha Atoll, located in the South China Sea, near south-eastern China and the Philippines, is rich in marine life and is regarded as one of the world’s most important coral reefs.

The researchers said on its own, a 2 degrees Celsius rise in temperatures was unlikely to cause widespread damage to coral reefs in the region.

Image may contain: plant and outdoor

Photo Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times, with article by  Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times

But, a high-pressure system caused temperatures to spike to 6 degrees, leading to the death of 40% of coral over the course of six weeks.

They argue that predictions of the future of coral reefs may be “overly optimistic” for some reefs in shallow water.

Bleaching happens when high water temperatures cause corals to expel the algae they depend upon.

The Australian government confirmed in March that widespread coral bleaching is happening on the Great Barrier Reef for the fourth time in history.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39365690

Related:

 Article by Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times

Fish swim through the coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The reef is facing some serious challenges, but scientists dispute the notion that it is dead.

China to host Asean in meeting on South China Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 24, 2017

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

Malcolm Turnbull in China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Page in Beijing contributed to this article.

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

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