Monthly Archives: December 2017

A Blueprint for Fisheries Management and Environmental Cooperation in the South China Sea


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On the left, the relatively healthy but overfished reef flat surrounding Thitu Island; on the right, a reef flat approximately 1.5 nautical miles away destroyed by Chinese clam harvesters. Both photos dated February 2016, courtesy of John McManus.   Total fish stocks in the South China Sea have been depleted by 70-95 percent since the 1950s and catch rates have declined by 66-75 percent over the last 20 years. Giant clam harvesting, dredging, and artificial island building in recent years severely damaged or destroyed over 160 square kilometers, or about 40,000 acres, of coral reefs, which were already declining by 16 percent per decade. The entire South China Sea fishery, which officially employs around 3.7 million people and helps feed hundreds of millions, is now in danger of collapse unless claimants act urgently to arrest the decline.   Article 123 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) mandates that states bordering semi-enclosed seas like the South China Sea are obligated to cooperate in areas that include the protection of the marine environment and management of fish stocks. This is reflective of the deeply interconnected ecologies of semi-enclosed seas, in which currents cycle marine life (and pollution) through the region without regard for national jurisdiction. Moreover, Article 192 of UNCLOS provides a general obligation for states to “protect and preserve the marine environment.” Unlike hydrocarbons, for which exploitation rights are based only upon a state’s entitlement to the continental shelf, the obligation to jointly steward living marine resources makes fisheries management and environmental protection “low hanging fruit” for cooperation in the South China Sea.   An effective system to manage South China Seas fisheries and the environment cannot be based primarily on the overlapping territorial and maritime claims, to which the fish pay no attention. Instead it must be built around the entire marine ecosystem, particularly the reef systems, on which much marine life depends. With political will, it is entirely possible for nations bordering the South China Sea to cooperatively protect these ecosystems and manage fish stocks without prejudice to their overlapping territorial and maritime claims. For instance, the Philippines, whose government is under a strict constitutional requirement to defend the nation’s sovereign rights over its waters and continental shelf, could agree to cooperate on fisheries management in disputed waters under Article 123 of UNCLOS without prejudicing its claims or bestowing legitimacy on the claims of others, and therefore without running afoul of its domestic law.  


How La Niña’s icy grip may bolster China’s resolve in the South China Sea

  As defined by the US’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, La Niña is “a natural ocean-atmospheric phenomenon marked by cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean near the equator.” That lends itself to a colder winter in China and by extension to higher energy use for heating. China’s changing energy mix can only reinforce Beijing’s determination to secure its presence in the seaways of the South China Sea   Colder weather conditions and higher demand for energy for heating, coupled with China’s drive to curtail air pollution by reducing its dependency on coal as an energy source, has led to a spike in the country’s demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative fuel source.   Why winter heating crisis will not stop China’s dash for gas   That increase in Chinese demand has, in turn, helped drive up both the spot price for LNG and the rates for hiring the tankers by which that energy is delivered.   Strong demand from China has helped to push up the spot price for the Asia-delivery LNG benchmark. As the Post reported on Saturday, data from China’s national bureau of statistics showed the price of LNG in the first 10 days of December reached 6,967 yuan per tonne (US$1,053), representing a 23.6 per cent increase when compared with the last 10 days of November.  


Study: China to Boost Military Muscle at Sea to Deter Foreign Powers

TAIPEI —   China is widely forecast to bolster its military power next year in the South China Sea to resist Japan, India and the United States, as well as the Asian states that dispute Beijing’s maritime claims.   Scholars believe China will eventually enhance radar surveillance and let fighter jets use tiny islets for stopovers. Beijing might declare an air defense identification zone or other means of maritime control, too, they suggest.   It probably hopes the United States, along with militarily powerful allies such as Japan and India, will stay out after they jumped into the dispute this year, according to Oh Ei Sun, international studies instructor at Singapore Nanyang University.   “I don’t think they’re primarily offensive in nature, but of course with those installations in place, they will have more bargaining chips, they’re in a stronger position to say the U. S. should not perform [freedom of navigation operations] and such in the South China Sea,” Oh said.   New hardware   China this year added installations in the Paracel and Spratly Islands, said the Asia Maritime Transparency Institute of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  


Chinese air force planes fly through Tsushima Strait for first time

  BEIJING, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) — Chinese air force planes Monday flew through Tsushima Strait for the first time and conducted drills in international airspace over the Sea of Japan, an air force spokesperson said.   The drills, involving bombers, fighters, reconnaissance planes and other aircraft, were aimed to examine the high-sea combat ability of the air force, said Shen Jinke, spokesman for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force.   The drills accomplished the planned purpose and improved the air force’s manoeuvring capability on the high sea, he said, adding that Chinese planes responded to interference from foreign military aircraft.   As part of the air force’s annual training program, the drills are in line with international laws and practices and do not target any particular country, region or object, said Shen.  


Vietnam Follows Beijing With South China Sea Upgrades of Its Own

    As China continues to transform disputed territory in the South China Sea into features capable of sustaining air and naval bases, Vietnam is also upgrading areas it occupies.   Images taken by DigitalGlobe satellites in September show new facilities including a possible dry dock on West London Reef in the Spratly Island chain, around 680 kilometers (422 miles) southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, that could allow boats to stop for maintenance and patrol for longer periods.   While the work is vastly outweighed by what China is doing it suggests Hanoi wants to hold its ground over the contested waterway, even if it risks upsetting Beijing. In August, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a construction halt on a 500 square-meter sand bar in the area after a protest from China.   “Maintaining and even consolidating a military and non-military presence has been consistently one of the key approaches for Vietnam’s strategy for the South China Sea,” said Alexander Vuving, a political analyst at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii.   Read more on China’s recent building activities in the South China Sea here   Vietnam has reclaimed about 120 acres across 10 islets since 2014, according to the Washington DC-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, extending runways and adding radar and patrol capabilities. By comparison, China has reclaimed more than 3,200 acres on seven features in the Spratlys, building ports, lighthouses and runways it says are mostly for civilian purposes or defense.  


China unveils satellite network plan for round-the-clock lock on South China Sea

  When completed, the satellite network would be able to monitor the South China Sea around the clock and analyse every object in the waters in detail, including the structure of vessels, Hainan Daily quoted Li Xiaoming, from the Sanya Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, as saying.   The plan surfaced on Friday after a US think tank released satellite images showing what it said was more Chinese infrastructure built on seven artificial South China Sea islands.   China still building South China Sea islands, think tank says   According to state-run Xinhua, China will launch the satellites, including more sophisticated “hyperspectral” and “synthetic aperture radar” satellites, by 2021 to conduct round-the-clock remote-sensing over the busy waterway.   Collin Koh, a maritime security specialist at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said various technical and climatic factors prevented China’s existing satellite system from giving complete coverage of the disputed waters.  


The Great Leap Forward: China’s Pursuit of a Strategic Breakthrough

On February 25, 1956, in a closed session of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave his “Secret Speech” denouncing Stalin and his cult of personality. The political tremors from this questioning of Communist doctrine traveled across the border to Beijing where Chinese-leader Mao Zedong initially responded with an invitation for criticism (“Let a thousand flowers bloom”), only to double down on his relentless pursuit of internal enemies and continuous revolution. In search of a strategic breakthrough, Mao embarked on the Great Leap Forward, a sweeping, terrifying and, ultimately, catastrophic economic program designed to surpass the achievements of Western industrialization in an accelerated timeframe (in one “big bang”).   Beginning with Deng Xiaoping in 1978, China has since charted a different course, one of economic reform and modernization. This internal change dovetailed with external factors such as the end of the Cold War and expansion of globalization. Nearly forty years later, with hundreds of millions of Chinese lifted from poverty, a growing middle class, and the world’s second largest economy, Beijing’s ascent is one of the most important narratives in modern history. China’s rise has also been graded and moderated in comparison to the turbulent and tragic character of Mao’s era.  


Top Chinese commander takes aim at Australia over South China Sea military moves

    China’s top commander has accused Australia of compromising peace and stability in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.   The accusation comes amid growing wariness in Canberra over China’s roles in the region and a diplomatic row over alleged Chinese political interference in Australian politics.   People’s Liberation Army Navy commander Lieutenant Admiral Shen Jinlong levelled the claim during a meeting with his Australian counterpart Vice Admiral Tim Barrett in Beijing on Thursday, the Ministry of National Defence said.   “The situation in the South China Sea is positive, but a series of moves by the Australian military this year has compromised the overall trend of peace and stability in the area,” Shen was quoted as saying.   Australia looks for balance to China’s rising power in Indo-Pacific region   “This goes against the consensus agreed by leaders of both countries, as well as the goodwill they are trying to develop. It is also not beneficial to the safety and stability of the region.”   Shen did not refer to a specific incident but in June Australia joined Japan, Canada and the United States for two days of military exercises in the South China Sea.   He also warned Australia to take into consideration the rights and concerns of the countries involved, and to “add positive elements” to the relationship.  


China Quietly Building More Facilities in the South China Sea

    China has begun work or completed building infrastructure on about 72 acres (29 hectares) of land on outposts in the South China Sea this year, according to a report by the Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.   While the global focus has been on North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, China has been quietly developing facilities from underground storage areas to hangers and radar arrays on reefs in the sea. The new real estate is on reclaimed land at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief reefs in the Spratlys chain, and North, Tree, and Triton features in the Paracels.   Read here for more on China’s maritime push   “Beijing remains committed to advancing the next phase of its build-up—construction of the infrastructure necessary for fully-functioning air and naval bases on the larger outposts,” the report said.   In recent years China has undertaken massive land reclamation in the waterway that hosts $5 trillion in trade a year to strengthen its claim to more than 80 percent of the area. That has strained ties with other claimant states such as Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the U.S.  


‘Slow-moving crisis’ as Beijing bolsters South China Sea war platform

  China has created military facilities about four times the size of Buckingham palace on contested islands in the South China Sea, a new report has said, calling the build-up a “slow-moving crisis” in one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints.   China built about 29 hectares (290,000 square metres) of new facilities on contested islands in 2017, including munitions depots, sensor arrays, radar systems and missile shelters, according to an analysis by US thinktank the Center for Strategic and International Studies.     The South China Sea is dotted with small reefs and islands, and parts of it are claimed by a host of south-east Asian neighbours.   China claims nearly the entire sea and has artificially increased the size of some islands and deployed fighter jets to bolster its claims, with the islands frequently described as “unsinkable aircraft carriers”. Beijing has reclaimed 1,280 hectares of land in just one area, according to the US department of defence.