Posts Tagged ‘Spratlys’

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)

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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

 

 

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.

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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)

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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

 

 

Philippines: President Duterte Foes Amend Impeachment Complaint, Call Duterte Stance on China ‘Dereliction of Duty’

March 20, 2017
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano holds a copy of the impeachment complaint he filed against President Duterte at the House of Representatives on Thursday. Philstar.com/File photo
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MANILA, Philippines — Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano said that his group is considering  filing a supplemental complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte for allegedly being subservient to China.
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Alejano’s statement came after Duterte claimed last week that he allowed China to send survey ships to Benham Rise as part of an agreement.
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The Department of Foreign Affairs last week said it was not aware of an agreement or policy over the Benham Rise region.
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In an interview on CNN’s ‘The Source,’ Alejano said that the president’s action is a matter of national security since there is a conflict of interest with China on the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea that Manila claims.
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“We’re talking about national interest here, we’re talking about national security here because we have a clear conflict of interest in West Philippine Sea,” Alejano said.
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China has repeatedly reiterated its position over the South China Sea, saying it has a historical and legal claim over the vast area.
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An international tribunal however, ruled in favor of the Philippines in an arbitration case against China, saying that China’s “nine-dash line” claim over a large part of the South China Sea, including part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, has no basis.
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In a speech on Sunday, Duterte also said that he cannot stop China from setting up a reported monitoring station in the Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc.
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“We cannot stop China from doing its thing. Hindi nga napara ng Amerikano,” Duterte said.
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Duterte added that the country will lose all of its military and policemen if he declares war against China.
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Alejano however, said that war is not the only solution, saying that the president could constantly raise issues in the West Philippines Sea.
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“He’s not doing that because he’s afraid to offend China,” Alejano said.
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He added that if Duterte said he cannot do anything to protect the country’s territory “then that’s dereliction of duty.”
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Related:
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 (Contains links to several previos articles on the South China Sea)

Philippine President Duterte Seeking Allies For At Sea Code of Conduct

March 20, 2017
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Duterte is welcomed by his Myanmar counterpart U Htin Kyaw at the Presidential Palace in the capital Naypyitaw yesterday. Duterte flew to Bangkok, Thailand last night. AP

MANILA, Philippines – In a bid to avoid tension in disputed areas in the South China Sea, President Duterte called for support for the approval of a Code of Conduct (COC) among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“It’s very important for China and the rest of the nations, especially the ASEAN, to come up with a Code of Conduct,” Duterte said in a press briefing in Myanmar on Sunday night.

The President also pitched for the COC while he was in Myanmar, which was part of the last leg of his introductory tour of Southeast Asia in the run-up to the ASEAN summit this November in Manila.

The Declaration on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) was signed by all members of ASEAN and China on Nov. 4, 2002. It lists the principles of self-restraint and non-militarization.

Duterte said he would invoke the arbitral ruling favoring Philippine claims if China starts gathering mineral resources from the disputed areas.

“Kung ang China kukuha na sila ng mga oil o uranium (If China starts getting oil or uranium) or whatever that’s inside the bowels of the sea, kalabitin ko sila (I will do something). Ako man rin ang may-ari niyan (We own it). You claim it by historical right, but by judgment I won and it’s mine,” he said.

But Duterte again admitted that the Philippines cannot stop China from building a radar station at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal because the Philippine military is no match for Chinese armed forces. And he cannot allow Filipino soldiers to go to disputed areas to avoid casualties.

“First hour pa lang ubos na ‘yun (they are finished already). We are not in a position to declare war,” he said.

“But I said to China that someday during my term as President, I will have to confront you about the arbitral ruling and that would be maybe, during the time when you begin to extract minerals and the riches of what is inside the bowels of the earth,” he added.

Duterte also claimed that the United States is also “scared” of China.

“Hindi nga natin mapigilan kasi hindi natin kaya ang China. Hindi nga mapigilan ng Amerikano. In the first place, sa umpisa pa lang niyan, hindi na pumunta ang Amerikano, natakot na (We cannot stop China. Even the Americans cannot stop it. In the first place, from the start America did not respond, they got scared right away),” he said.

He noted that what the Philippines has right now are only entitlements.

“Just entitlement, not territory. I said repeatedly it is not within our territorial waters. But what we are trying to achieve is that we are also recognized to own the entitlements,” he said.

“The structures have nothing to do with the economic zone. It might impede but actually it’s a construction that would disturb the navigation of the sea,” he added.

Despite China’s excessive claims, Duterte said he is working to further bolster economic and trade ties between Manila and Beijing.

Defend Panatag

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio reminded Duterte that he has the constitutional duty to defend Panatag Shoal from Chinese incursion.

Carpio also formulated a five-point strategy on how the Duterte administration can respond to China’s reported plan to install a radar station in the disputed shoal.

The magistrate explained that Panatag is part of the national territory under Republic Act No. 9522 or Philippine Baselines Law and should be defended to “preserve for future generations of Filipinos their national patrimony in the West Philippine Sea.”

But he stressed that since the Philippines cannot match the military power of China, Duterte may opt for other actions to defend the country’s sovereignty over the shoal and fulfill his duty as president.

First, Carpio suggested that the government should file a strong formal protest against the Chinese building activity before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague.

“This is what the Vietnamese did recently when China sent cruise tours to the disputed Paracels,” he added.

The PCA ruled that Panatag Shoal is a “common fishing ground” of fishermen not only from the Philippines but also from China and other neighboring countries and nullified China’s nine-dash line claim over South China Sea. The justice said the government could also send the Philippine Navy to patrol the shoal.

“If the Chinese attack Philippine Navy vessels, then invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty which covers any armed attack on Philippine navy vessels operating in the South China Sea,” he suggested.

Related:

 

Vietnam demands China stop cruises in South China Sea

March 13, 2017

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

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

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

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Le Hai Binh, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry

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

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

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

The Paracels are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Paracels are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

US Pentagon chief sees no need for military moves in South China Sea

February 6, 2017
FILE – In this Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 file photo, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis answers questions during the joint press conference with Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo. On his first trip to Asia as secretary of defense, Mattis ruled out a military response to China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea but promised to continue with freedom of navigation operations to oppose Beijing’s occupation of disputed islands. “At this time, we do not see any need for dramatic military moves at all,” Mattis told reporters in Tokyo, emphasizing the need for diplomacy. AP/Eugene Hoshiko, File

MANILA, Philippines — There is no need for the United States to make “dramatic” military moves in the disputed South China Sea as Beijing nearly completes its facilities in the region, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said.

Mattis noted that the US will exhaust all diplomatic efforts to properly address the longstanding maritime dispute.

“And certainly our military stance should be one that reinforces our diplomats in this regard,” Mattis said in Tokyo last Saturday.

The US Defense secretary, however, noted that China has “shredded the trust of nations in the region” following its land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.

Mattis stressed that the resolving disputes should involve playing by the rules and not by taking military means.

“We don’t settle them by taking military means and occupying land that is subject to question, to say the least about who actually owns it, or is it international waters,” Mattis said.

American military stance would be one that reinforces diplomats in resolving the issue, the US Defense Secretary said.

“But there is no need right now at this time for military maneuvers or something like that, that would solve something that’s best solved by the diplomats,” the Defense Secretary said.

US Secretary State Rex Tillerson earlier said that there is a need to send a clear signal against China’s island-building activities in the disputed waters.

In his confirmation hearing before the US Senate last month, Tillerson said that China’s actions are “extremely worrisome.”

The Trump administration had vowed to defend territories that are in international waters including those in the South China Sea.

RELATED: Experts: Too late to stop China from dominating South China Sea

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/02/06/1669620/us-pentagon-chief-sees-no-need-military-moves-south-china-sea

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of the “nine dash line” as depted on this Chinese government chart. On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid
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South China Sea and China’s questionable claims — Chart by THE ECONOMIST

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By Mike Rothschilkd

What You Need to Know About the South China Sea Dispute

Two senior members of President Donald Trump’s administration, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and senior advisor Steve Bannon, have referenced China’s extensive and growing territorial claims in the South China Sea as a potential flash point for war.

American Planes in the South China SeaUNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE – WIKIMEDIA.ORG

Should Americans be worried that armed conflict will break out?

Bannon said last March:

“We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years, aren’t we? There’s no doubt about that. They’re taking their sandbars and making basically stationary aircraft carriers and putting missiles on those.”

Tillerson said during his confirmation hearings that he considers the area a site for potential combat:

“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”

What’s in the South China Sea that’s so valuable to risk war between two nuclear nations?

What does it matter to Americans? And what’s this business about floating aircraft carriers?

South China Sea MapWALL STREET JOURNAL – WSJ.COM

What exactly is the South China Sea?

The South China Sea is 1.4 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Why is it so important?

Its shipping lanes handle one third of the world’s commercial shipping — as much as $5 trillion worth of goods every year.

It’s also home to countless fishing grounds that feed much of Asia, water that China believes is its sovereign territory.

The area may also contain vast oil and gas deposits among its tiny island chains. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that the seabeds in the South China Sea might contain as much as 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas

Ships in the South China SeaUS NAVY – WIKIMEDIA.ORG

Who do these islands belong to?

Ask each country, and you’ll get a different answer.

China claims sovereignty over everything inside of a radius it calls the “nine-dash line.” It’s literally a huge curve that China drew on a map in 1947, and the area includes the archipelagoes the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands, which are largely uninhabited but have important strategic and economic value. China has militarized the area, building out existing islands with military bases and weapons to defend its claims.

Vietnam claims the Spratlys and Paracels as well and has fought several skirmishes with China over them.

Taiwan sees itself as the legitimate Chinese government and also has claims on the islands, as do the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

Because of the sheer number of ships transiting the area and the increasing military presence in the islands, conflict could break out among any of the claimants at any time.

Spratly IslandsCIA – WIKIMEDIA.ORG

What’s the deal with the fake islands China is building?

They aren’t so much “fake islands” as they are massively bulked up shoals. Vast fleets dig up sediment and pack it onto existing reefs and inlets, creating islands big enough to support air units, radar stations, missiles, and guns.

The islands bolster China’s territorial claims and could defend its shipping lanes if things went south. It’s unknown exactly how much firepower China has in the Spratlys.

Every other claimant has an artificial airstrip in the Spratlys, but China is the most prolific builder. The U.S. claims China has added almost 3,200 acres, or 14.5 square miles, to the Spratlys.

Fiery Cross Reef, Spratly IslandsUS NAVY – WIKIMEDIA.ORG

Does the international community recognize China’s claims?

An international tribunal rejected China’s nine-dash line last July, condemned its island-building, and found that most of the Spratlys belonged to the Philippines. Beijing has ignored the ruling.

How can the U.S. block access to islands China created?

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. stayed out of the territorial dispute, recognizing the South China Sea as international waters and making it clear that America would defend the interests of its allies in the area.

But President Trump and his administration have indicated they intend to take a more hawkish stance, borne out by Tillerson’s threats to block China’s access.

The U.S. has a vested interest in keeping the sea lanes open and is treaty-bound to come to the defense of both Japan and the Philippines should they become involved in an armed conflict over the South China Sea.

But the only way to prevent China from building islands and accessing them is to blockade the Spratlys, a massive naval commitment that China would see as an act of war. The same would be true of any nation that attempted to block China from the islands.

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China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning with accompanying warships in the South China Sea. Reuters photo

Would it really come to that?

As with much of the rhetoric from both China and the Trump team, it’s hard to tell. There are a number of diplomatic channels through which parties can avoid armed conflict.

But if the Trump administration truly believes war is coming, it might try to start it on its terms.

China is fiercely protective of any territory it believes to be its own. War could start for any number of reasons:

  • Blocked shipping routes
  • Illegal seizure of cargo
  • Two ships colliding with loss of life
  • The U.S. or the Philippines interdicting Chinese access to the Spratlys
  • Someone trying to tap oil reserves that belong to someone else
  • A simple misunderstanding between armed vessels

Who would have the advantage?

China would have the advantage because its mainland isn’t far away.

The U.S. Navy is much bigger, with 11 aircraft carriers compared to China’s one, but it’s scattered across the globe and would take time to mobilize.

China could quickly move a considerable fleet of ships and submarines into the Spratlys, backed up by close air support, drones, and missiles fired from the islands.

Chinese amphibious landing exercisePEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY NAVY – POPSCI.COM

Conflict could take the form of anything from small-scale drone strikes to air combat to all-out barrages of cruise missiles fired by multiple combatants.

If the limited U.S. forces stationed in the area were overwhelmed, the Trump administration would likely feel pressure to respond with even more force. Both China and the U.S. have practiced amphibious invasions of the Spratly Islands, and a war could quickly escalate far beyond anyone’s intention.

Escalate? Like with nuclear weapons?

It’s extremely unlikely. China has long had a no first use policy when it comes to nuclear weapons.

The U.S. doesn’t have such a policy, but Trump vowed during a presidential debate that he wouldn’t “do first strike” and would do everything he could to keep a conflict from going nuclear.

No matter what happens in a South China Sea war, the biggest effect would likely be on the U.S. economy. The U.S. sends $100 billion in shipping through the South China Sea each month, and any disruption to these routes could severely damage American commerce and trade.

The stakes in the South China Sea are high, and the consequences of ill-considered moves or saber-rattling could be disastrous for the entire world.

http://www.attn.com/stories/14724/explaining-south-china-sea-dispute

China’s proliferation of South China Sea runways looks impressive, but air power has limits

January 8, 2017

By  Ben Blackledge
Hong Kong Free Press

It’s no secret what the mainland is doing in the South China Sea. No one is surprised when they hear of another dredging operation to reclaim an island, or when another runway pops up on satellite imagery where before there were only idyllic, turquoise waters.

The recent arrival of fighter aircraft along with evidence of anti-aircraft reinforcements is meant as a clear statement of intent. But there remains a very pertinent question which has had little attention – what can they achieve with this collection of runways?

On the face of it, the answer seems clear – to project air power in the region. China’s political goal is to claim vast swathes of the South China Sea marked out by the ‘nine-dash line’, a border of questionable historic merit. This claim would allow exploitation of the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) established around sovereign territory as well as establishing China as the dominant force in the region.

south china sea

Photo: Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).

China wants to maintain a presence on these islands to reinforce the legitimacy of its claims while filling them with aircraft in order to defend them. The problem is that, historically speaking, air power has a very poor record of achieving wider strategic goals.

Going back to World War II, the first example of total warfare, and the Royal Air Force bombing of targets in Germany – leaders such as Bomber Command’s Arthur Harris called for comprehensive bombing of German cities to “break the will of the people”. Results were anything but, many observers recalling that the attacks galvanised communities instead of breaking them. Political and strategic effect, nil.

Fast forward to the brutal bombing campaign in Vietnam carried out by the United States Air Force through Rolling Thunder. The main political aim of the operation was to persuade the North Vietnamese to quit the war, or at least entice them to the negotiating table. Despite dropping 643,000 tonnes of munitions on North Vietnam, littering the land with unexploded ordinance and threats for years to come, the operation failed to reach its goals.

Disputed islands in the South China Sea

Disputed islands in the South China Sea. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

Some might think that the advent of precision weaponry, that is laser and GPS guided weapons, the effects could be more accurately directed to achieve a specific result. Looking at the Kosovo conflict would reveal otherwise.

A NATO bombing campaign commenced in March 1999 with the political goal of forcing Milosevic to withdraw Serbian troops from the Kosovo region. Initially the strike list consisted of hard military targets but, as the results disappointed, was expanded to infrastructure such as power stations and radio stations.

After four months of intensive bombing, the turning point came only when the U.S expanded its options to include a land force, a line which Serbia’s ally, Russia, would not cross.

Some examples where it has worked well consist of military campaigns where strike aircraft are used in the close air support role working with ground troops to attack specific targets. The evidence seems to suggest then that air power is most effective in the tactical or operational spheres and less so in the strategic.

Ultimately, previous air power campaigns failed either because leaders didn’t appreciate the galvanising effect cold and remote attacks can have on a civilian population, or because an air force cannot be omnipresent and, once clear, the enemy has calmly continued their work.

south china sea naval ships

Warships in the South China sea. Photo: Wikicommons.

On the first point, China has already tested the waters by sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat last year, resulting in a major diplomatic backlash and growing anger amongst Vietnamese people. The majority of popular opinion has strengthened against China, which may have further implications for the regional power, especially if other claimants can cooperate and channel their demands through ASEAN.

China already finds international opinion against it after the U.N. last July ruled in favour of the Philippines in a case questioning the legitimacy of the nine-dash claim.

The second point relates to the practical considerations about what China can actually do with the aircraft stationed on the islands and how far it is prepared to go.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) recently stationed Shenyang J-11 aircraft on the main airstrip protecting the Paracel Islands, known as Woody Island or Yongzing. The J-11 is an air superiority fighter with a combat radius of 1,500km putting most of the South China Sea in its crosshairs. Its primary function is to clear an airspace of the enemy but doing so is a means, not an end. They are most likely the start of a military build-up in the area which will include ground attack and reconnaissance planes.

south china sea disputed

Photo: GoogleMaps.

In peacetime, these aircraft will do little to deter infractions. China’s Coastguard may feel confident harassing and ramming fishing boats, but an air force does not drop bombs lightly. Air strikes are a much stronger statement tantamount to war, incapable of being used with the light touch required to navigate regional tension.

China will back up its claims until the point where others would be forced to defend their interests and, as the biggest player, the United States has made its position very clear. The U.S. Air Force and Navy regularly conduct “freedom of navigation” exercises undermining the integrity of the claim. Despite the Chinese Navy seizing an unmanned underwater vehicle last month, real resistance to these exercises has been meek, consisting of verbal warnings over radio.

Fighters are sometimes scrambled to guide away reconnaissance aircraft but these have taken on a benign familiarity, much like the games Russian surveillance aircraft play with European air forces. Clearly no bombs have been dropped on inquisitive ships.

Should the situation escalate, even with more advanced technology, air power would struggle to produce effective results. With the claimed islands being so close to other countries and the defensive precautions that entails, it’s unlikely that even with air superiority and a high volume of ground attacks, the “enemy” could be inhibited or coerced into a political compromise. Remember that even with the might of NATO brought to bear against one of Europe’s less developed countries, it could not force Milosevic’s hand by air power alone.

NATO

NATO. Photo: Wikicommons.

In the event of all-out war, these outposts and runways are dangerously exposed. Despite bordering nations not having the firepower of China, they would take significant resources to defend.

Likely sources of conflict in coming years include unintended interactions between navies, as well as resistance to China’s exploitation of oil and gas within their EEZ. An oil rig constructed to the West of the Paracel Islands stands mockingly close to Vietnamese waters whilst Reed Reef, a source of natural gas and oil within the Philippines, has been repeatedly harassed by Chinese vessels – a land grab Filipinos would regard as the final straw.

Statesmen talk of restraint but, as the world saw with the Turkish downing of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M last year, sometimes an interaction between two abrasive forces can result in surprising and potentially catastrophic consequences.

At present, we have a stalemate – fourth-generation fighter aircraft parked in the sun, their contribution too large a gesture to bring against minor infractions, their presence symbolic only.

Blackledge

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2017/01/07/chinas-proliferation-south-china-sea-runways-looks-impressive-air-power-limits/

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China H-6 bomber near Scarborough Shoal, The Philippines

China Installs Weapons in South China Sea, Satellites Show

December 15, 2016

President Xi Jinping had pledged not to place arms on the islands in the Spratly archipelago

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Updated Dec. 15, 2016 3:09 a.m. ET

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In this undated photo released Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, by China’s Xinhua News Agency, two Chinese Su-30 fighter jets take off from an unspecified location to fly a patrol over the South China Sea. China’s air force announced Saturday that it has conducted a combat air patrol over disputed areas of the South China Sea. Jin Danhua/Xinhua via AP

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BEIJING—China has installed antiaircraft guns and other weapons on all seven of the artificial islands it has built in a disputed part of the South China Sea, according to a U.S. think tank’s analysis of recent satellite imagery.

Late Wednesday, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said China had installed the weapons despite President Xi Jinping’s pledge not to militarize the islands in the Spratly archipelago, where Beijing’s territorial claims are contested by several other governments.

AMTI’s report, published on its website, comes after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump suggested this month he would challenge China on trade and the status of Taiwan, and accused Beijing of building a “massive military complex” in the South China Sea.

China’s island-building over the last three years has raised fears in the U.S. and among its Asian allies and partners that Beijing plans to use its expanding military power to enforce its territorial claims and take control of one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

AMTI, run by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that since June and July it had tracked construction of hexagonal structures on three artificial islands—Fiery Cross, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef—where China has built airstrips large enough to accommodate military aircraft.

Those hexagonal structures are nearly identical to defensive fortifications built earlier at four smaller artificial islands, which appear to include antiaircraft guns and probably close-in weapons systems, or CIWS, designed to track and shoot down cruise missiles, AMTI said.

“These gun and probable CIWS emplacements show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea,” AMTI said.

“Among other things, they would be the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases.”

An aerial photo of Subi Reef taken Nov. 17.
An aerial photo of Subi Reef taken Nov. 17. PHOTO: CSIS/AMTI DIGITALGLOBE
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China’s Defense Ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

China says it has “indisputable sovereignty” over all South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters but its claims overlap with those of Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines—a U.S. treaty ally.

Beijing has said that the islands are mostly for civilian uses—such as weather monitoring and search-and-rescue—but will also serve defensive purposes. It landed a military aircraft on one in April.

Fiery Cross Reef, Nov. 10.
Fiery Cross Reef, Nov. 10. PHOTO: CSIS/AMTI DIGITALGLOBE

The U.S. says it doesn’t take sides in the territorial dispute but regards most of the South China Sea as international waters and has often sent military planes and ships through the area, sometimes close to Beijing’s artificial islands, to demonstrate its right to freedom of navigation.

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said in a speech at an Australian think tank on Wednesday that the U.S. fought its first war after independence to defend its right to freedom of navigation.

“No one, including me, wants conflict. I’ve been loud and clear that I prefer cooperation so that we can collectively address our shared security challenges,” he said.

“But I’ve also been loud and clear that we will not allow the shared domains to be closed down unilaterally—no matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea. I say this often but it’s worth repeating—we will cooperate where we can and be ready to confront where we must.”

I say this often but it’s worth repeating—we will cooperate where we can and be ready to confront where we must.

—Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, in Australia on Wednesday.

Adm. Harris has often taken a more strident tone toward China than the Pentagon or the White House under President Barack Obama. Analysts say his remarks may be more in line with thinking in the Trump transition team.

On Wednesday, China Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang responded to a question about Adm. Harris’s remarks by saying the situation in the South China Sea was “improving,” and by urging the U.S. to honor its commitment not to take sides.

AMTI said the weapons it identified could be used to back up a defensive umbrella provided by a future deployment to the islands of mobile surface-to-air missile systems.

“Such a deployment could happen at any time,” it said.

Images of one of the larger artificial islands, Fiery Cross Reef, showed towers that likely contained targeting radar, ATMI said. That kind of radar is used to guide missiles and other weapons.

Write to Jeremy Page at jeremy.page@wsj.com

http://www.wsj.com/articles/china-installs-weapons-in-south-china-sea-satellites-show-1481771066

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China Continues Military Construction in the South China Sea

December 15, 2016

US think tanks says advanced systems installed mean Beijing ‘could deploy fighter jets and missiles tomorrow if they wanted’

Thursday, December 15, 2016, 12:30 p.m.

China appears to have installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven of the artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea, a US think tank reported on Wednesday, citing new satellite imagery.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said its findings come despite statements by the Chinese leadership that Beijing has no intention to militarise the islands in the strategic trade route, where territory is claimed by several countries.

AMTI said it had been tracking construction of hexagonal structures on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly Islands since June and July. China has already built military length airstrips on these islands.

“It now seems that these structures are an evolution of point-defence fortifications already constructed at China’s smaller facilities on Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, and Cuarteron reefs,” the think tank said, citing images taken in November.

“This model has gone through another evolution at [the] much-larger bases on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs.”

Satellite images of Hughes and Gaven reefs showed what appeared to be anti-aircraft guns and what were likely to be close-in weapons systems (CIWS) to protect against cruise missile strikes, it said.

Images from Fiery Cross Reef showed towers that likely contained targeting radar, it said.

Watch: Cruising the disputed Paracel Islands

AMTI said covers had been installed on the towers at Fiery Cross, but the size of platforms on these and the covers suggested they concealed defence systems similar to those at the smaller reefs.

“These gun and probable CIWS emplacements show that Beijing is serious about defence of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea,” it said.

“Among other things, they would be the last line of defence against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases.”

AMTI director Greg Poling said AMTI had spent months trying to figure out what the purposes of the structures was.

“This is the first time that we’re confident in saying they are anti-aircraft and CIWS emplacements. We did not know that they had systems this big and this advanced there,” he said.

“This is militarisation. The Chinese can argue that it’s only for defensive purposes, but if you are building giant anti-aircraft gun and CIWS emplacements, it means that you are prepping for a future conflict.

“They keep saying they are not militarising, but they could deploy fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles tomorrow if they wanted to,” he said. “Now they have all the infrastructure in place for these interlocking rings of defense and power projection.”

Image may contain: outdoor

China HQ-9 surface to air missile systems

The report said the installations would likely back up a defensive umbrella provided by a future deployment of mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) platforms like the HQ-9 system deployed to Woody Island in the Paracel Islands, farther to the north in the South China Sea.

It forecast that such a deployment could happen “at any time,” noting a recent Fox News report that components for SAM systems have been spotted at the southeastern Chinese port of Jieyang, possibly destined for the South China Sea.

China has said military construction on the islands will be limited to necessary defensive requirements.

The United States has criticised what it called China’s militarisation of its maritime outposts and stressed the need for freedom of navigation by conducting periodic air and naval patrols near them that have angered Beijing.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and outdoor

Xi Jinping inspects U.S. honor guard with U.S. President Barack Obama, during a atate visit to the U.S., September 25, 2015. After the visit, President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry siad they had agreement with Mr. Xi to not militarize the South China Sea

US president-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on January 20, has also criticised Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea while signalling he may adopt a tougher approach to China’s assertive behaviour in the region than President Barack Obama.

The US State Department said it would not comment on intelligence matters, but spokesman John Kirby added: “We consistently call on China as well as other claimants to commit to peacefully managing and resolving disputes, to refrain from further land reclamation and construction of new facilities and the militarisation of disputed features.”

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2054789/satellite-images-show-beijing-has-built-weapons-all-its

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The Associated Press

BEIJING — China appears to have installed anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on its man-made islands in the strategically vital South China Sea, a U.S. security think tank says, upping the stakes in what many see as a potential Asian powder keg.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report late Wednesday that the anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapons systems designed to guard against missile attack have been placed on all seven of China’s newly created islands.

The outposts were built in recent years over objections by the U.S. and rival claimants by piling sand on top of coral reefs, followed by the construction of military grade 3,000-meter (10,000-foot) airstrips, barracks, lighthouses, radar stations and other infrastructure.

CSIS based its conclusions on satellite images taken in mid-to-late November and published on the website of its Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

In a statement, China’s Defense Ministry repeated that development on the islands was mainly for civilian purposes, but added that defensive measures were “appropriate and legal.”

“For example, were someone to be threatening you with armed force outside your front door, would you not get ready even a slingshot?” the ministry statement said.

The Philippines, which has troops and villagers stationed on some reefs and islands near China’s new artificial islands, expressed concern despite recently improving relations with China.

“If true, it is a big concern for us and the international community who uses the South China Sea lanes for trade,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. “It would mean that the Chinese are militarizing the area, which is not good.”

China’s new island armaments “show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea,” CSIS experts wrote in the report.

“Among other things, they would be the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases,” the report said.

Beijing says the islands are intended to boost maritime safety in the region while downplaying their military utility. They also mark China’s claim to ownership of practically the entire South China Sea.

Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also claim territory in the waterway through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes each year, while the U.S. Navy insists on its right to operate throughout the area, including in waters close to China’s new outposts. China has strongly criticized such missions, known as freedom of navigation operations.

The U.S. has committed to beefing up its military presence in the area, although new uncertainty has been introduced by incoming president Donald Trump, who broke long-established diplomatic protocol by talking on the phone earlier this month with the president of China’s longtime rival Taiwan.

Trump has called for a reconsideration of its commitments to its Asian allies, including Japan and South Korea, while simultaneously criticizing Chinese trade policy toward the U.S. along with its new territorial assertiveness. He also referred to China’s man-made islands in a tweet earlier this month, saying Beijing didn’t ask the U.S. if it was OK to “build a massive military complex in the South China Sea.”

“The timing is significant in that these first clear images come amid Trump’s challenging comments about China and its South China Sea fortresses,” said Alexander Neill, a senior fellow for Asia-Pacific security for the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in Singapore.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on a visit to the U.S. last year that “China does not intend to pursue militarization” of the area, prompting some foreign experts to accuse China of going back on its word with its new deployments.

Despite that, China considers it vital to equip the islands with defensive means given their distance — 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) — from the Chinese mainland, together with the nearby presence of forces from rival claimants such as Vietnam, said Yue Gang, a retired colonel and military analyst.

“As the matter of fact, these occupied islands have been armed and fortified for a long time,” Yue said. “No country in the world would only commit to providing civil services without considering its own security safety.”

Looking forward, the nature of China’s new military deployments will likely be calibrated in response to moves taken by the U.S., said the IISS’s Neill.

“China will argue that they are entitled to place whatever they want there in reaction to U.S. actions,” Neill said. “The big question is whether Trump will embark on a more strident or discordant policy in the South China Sea.”

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Recent Developments Surrounding the South China Sea — The Philippines has again thumbed its nose at the U.S.

December 12, 2016

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The Vietnamese flag flies above the east coast of Ly Son island, looking out towards the Paracels and Spratlys.
Above: Part of the Vietnamese presence at Ly Son island

BDEC. 11, 2016, 9:18 P.M. E.S.T.

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

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

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PHILIPPINES DOESN’T WANT TO BE USED FOR U.S. FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION MISSIONS

The Philippines has again thumbed its nose at the U.S., its longtime defense ally, saying it won’t be used as a springboard for U.S. ships and planes conducting operations that challenge China in the South China Sea.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the Philippines will not allow its territory to be used as a staging ground for U.S. patrols — a possible departure from the current policy that allows U.S. aircraft, ships and submarines access to designated Philippine military bases under a 2014 defense agreement.

Lorenzana said U.S. ships and planes can use Guam or Okinawa in Japan for South China Sea missions. But he said they can still refuel and resupply in the Philippines after conducting such maneuvers, not before.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said she could not comment on Lorenzana’s remarks as she hadn’t seen them, but added: “Our adherence to freedom of navigation is well known. You know, we will fly, we will sail anywhere within international waters and we will continue that.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the commander of the U.S. Army’s I Corps who leads international military exercises in the Pacific, said that the U.S. military was prepared to change next year’s joint exercises with the Philippines to humanitarian and disaster relief training.

“If we change the training, we would probably look at putting a different force and a different capability in the Philippines versus the initial one that had been planned to go there,” he told Voice of America, referring to the initial focus on the Philippines’ territorial defense.

President Rodrigo Duterte has reached out to China to try to smooth over the territorial disputes. He also said he wants to scale back the Philippines’ military engagements with the U.S., including scuttling a plan to carry out joint patrols with the U.S. Navy in the disputed waters, which he said China opposes.

But Manila still continues to rely on Washington. On Friday, the Philippine navy took delivery of a third frigate decommissioned from the U.S. Coast Guard.

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US, CHINA REACT TO VIETNAM’S REPORTED ISLAND DREDGING

The United States has called on Vietnam and other claimants to refrain from reclamation and militarization activities in contested South China Sea waters following reports that Hanoi has carried out dredging on one of the features it occupies in the Spratlys.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters that the U.S. is aware of the reports.

“We have consistently warned that reclamation and militarization in contested areas of the South China Sea will risk driving a destabilizing and escalatory trend. We encourage all claimants to take steps to lower tensions and peacefully resolve differences,” she said.

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Planet Labs satellite image shows the Ladd Reef, in the Spratly Islands, the South China Sea, July 19, 2016. (Via Reuters)

Vietnam’s government has not commented on satellite imagery purportedly showing dredging activities inside a channel on Ladd Reef, about 15 nautical miles (28 kilometers) west of Spratly Island where Hanoi recently began extending a runway and building hangers. It wasn’t clear if the latest activity was meant as repair or construction work.

Ladd Reef, which is submerged at high tide, has a lighthouse, which also serves as quarters for Vietnamese troops.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged Vietnam to “respect China’s sovereignty and rights, stop illegal invasion and construction activities, and not to take actions that could complicate the situation.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang (Photo by AFP)

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang (Photo by AFP)

He repeated Friday that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea.

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CHINA WARNS BRITAIN AGAINST SOUTH CHINA SEA PATROLS

China has reacted angrily to Britain’s announcement that its four Typhoon fighter jets on a training visit to Japan will patrol the skies over the East and South China sea, where Beijing is embroiled in territorial disputes with neighbors.

The British ambassador in Washington, Kim Darroch, also said last week that his government plans to conduct freedom of navigation operations involving its newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, when it becomes operational in 2020. He said that Britain “absolutely shares” the U.S. objective to protect freedom of navigation in what it considers international waters despite China’s claiming virtually the entire South China Sea as its territory.

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, in an opinion piece, said Darroch was perhaps trying to impress his Japanese colleague and that his remarks create the impression that London may soon deviate from “a largely aloof attitude” toward the South China Sea issue and start to meddle like the U.S. and Japan.

“Should a British warplane embark on a so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ mission in the South China Sea, it would only serve to further complicate the issue and weigh on thriving China-Britain ties,” Xinhua said.

It says China has never denied any legitimate passage of ships or planes in the area.

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CHINA ADDS SECOND CRUISE IN THE PARACELS

China is adding a second cruise ship to the Paracel Islands, a tropical paradise of pristine beaches and little else.

The new cruise ship called Nanhai Zhi Meng will start its maiden four-day voyage in late December from Sanya, a port on southern Hainan Island, to Yinyu, Quanfu and Yagong islands in the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

The first cruise was launched in April 2013 and so far has attracted 23,000 Chinese tourists.

The tours only serve islands with no military installations and are only open to Chinese nationals. Unlike the largest island in the Paracels, Woody Island, which is also an administrative center founded in 2012, the coral reefs on the cruise tour have no accommodation or any significant infrastructure.

Prices range from $580 to $1,450 per person.

Related:

China H-6 bomber Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines

China and Russia held joint military exercises in the Pacific Ocean in 2014 and in  September 2016.

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