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Thursday:  July 24, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in South China Sea (2)

Wednesday
Apr112012

The South China Sea: China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, & the Philippines all stake claim over oil-rich waters (REPORT) 

(MAP: The South China Sea/NASA)(HN, April 11, 2012) -- A cold-war `esque conflict is brewing in the area known as the South China Sea, though recently US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said there is no such scale of a dispute brewing.  It might be described then as an inter-Asia issue with China claiming the entire South China Sea for itself, with Taiwan and four ASEAN members - the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam - also making overlapping claims to parts of the territory.

THE PHILIPPINES

The Philippines and China are contesting sovereignty over a small group of rock formations known as Scarborough Shoal which the Philippines calls the Panatag Shoal but what China call's Huangyan Island. This weekend, Philippine Navy officials said eight Chinese fishing vessels had been found there, 124 nautical miles off the coast of Zambales province and the country’s largest warship, the US Hamilton-class cutter Gregorio del Pilar, was sent to investigate.

The fishermen claim they were seeking shelter from bad weather, and were prevented from entering the lagoon by a Philippine Naval gunboat. A boarding party found endangered marine species on the ships, and a standoff ensued after China sent two surveillance vessels to the area to prevent the arrest of its nationals, Vice Admiral Alexander P. Pama of the Philippine Navy told reporters at a briefing.

On Wednesday in Manila, the Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario met with the Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing over the matter and  both made a statement saying "We resolve to seek a diplomatic solution to the issue", though neither country is backing down from territorial claims to the Scarborough Shoal  region.

(PHOTO: A Chinese fishing boat boarded by Philippine Navy officers/DAF handout)The dispute is one of a myriad of conflicting claims over islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea pitting China against its Asian neighbors who, last year using patrol boats to disrupt hydrocarbon survey activities chasing away a ship working for Forum Energy off the Philippines and slicing cables of a vessel doing work for Vietnam. Some of the claims have drawn the United States to press China over sovereignty.

Both of the countries reject China's map of the South China Sea as a basis for joint development of oil and gas resources, and have pushed ahead with exploration work, leading to more confrontations as China expands the use of its marine surveillance vessels.

OIL? SHIPPING?

Also at play are the Spratly Islands, a group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea. The archipelago is situated off the coasts of the Philippines and Malaysia, about one third of the way from there to Vietnam - amounting to less than four square kilometers of land area over more than 425,000 square kilometers of ocean.  Such small, remote islands have little economic value in themselves, but are important in establishing international boundaries.

The islands stand as rich fishing grounds, and initial surveys indicate the islands may contain significant reserves of oil and natural gas which a 2008 US Energy Information Agency report said could be as much as 213 billion barrels of oil.

About 45 of the islands are occupied by small numbers of military forces from Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Brunei.

Tension has risen in the past two years over worries China is becoming more assertive in its claims to the area as needs for oil and gas rise in the population booming Communist nation in and as more goods are needed in the second largest nation on earth. 

Straddling the Spratly archipelago are also the main shipping lanes between East Asia and Europe and the Middle East and the control of these lanes has not been lost on those claiming sovereignty over these waters.

(MAP: South China Sea claims by country/USC China Center) The stakes have risen further since the US last year began refocusing its military attention on Asia, strengthening ties with the Philippines and Australia.  The US has a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines and has boosted military relations with Vietnam in recent years.

VIETNAM

On Tuesday, Chinese state media said a Chinese cruise ship, the `Scent of Princess Coconut', had completed a trial voyage to the Paracel Islands - Hoang Sa in Vietnamese - a cluster of close to 40 islets, outcrops and reefs that both Vietnam and China claim as theirs since ancient times.

The Scent of Princess Coconut docked at a port in the Chinese southern island of Hainan on Monday after the trip. The proposed opening of the Paracel Islands to tourism by China could add to the long-standing tension, which has drawn the United States into pressing China over the issue.

The Japanese-built ship carried out a three-day voyage to the northern shoals of the Paracels, though China said there was no firm timetable for a launch of such regular cruises. Initial Chinese plans call for ships to visit Woody Island, called Yongxing Island by China, though tourists would not be allowed to leave their boat.

Vietnam's foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said Monday that the trip was "illegal and seriously violates Vietnam's sovereignty".

(PHOTO: Scent of Princess Coconut Cruise Ship/Yexiang Gongzhu)China and South Vietnam once administered different parts of the Paracels, but after a brief conflict in 1974, Beijing took control of the entire group of islands - although this remains disputed by Hanoi.

Last month, China detained 21 crew sailing on two Vietnamese fishing boats near the Paracels, sparking an angry rebuke from Hanoi.

INDIA, RUSSIA

Complicating matters as well are recent claims by both India and Russia which have both, in the past few months announced their own plans to go ahead with oil exploration in the South China Sea, in partnership with Vietnam.  China has vocally asked both nations to step aside saying, "China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea".

RESOLUTION?

Although not an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Nations) nation member, Chinese President Hu Jintao travelled to Phnom Penh ahead of the Asia bodies meeting in Cambodia last week to press his case over the South China Sea with Prime Minister Hun Sen - asking that ASEAN work to resolve the dispute among its members.  ASEAN, for its part has stated that it believes the issue should be discussed and solved among those members making claims to the area directly.

--- HUMNEWS

Monday
Feb202012

Shifting Winds in the South China Sea (COMMENTARY) 

By Derek Bolton 

Floating oil barrier in the South China Sea (AFP)The South China Sea, although far from tranquil, has yet to revert to the volatility and violence witnessed in the late 1980s. However, current efforts to maintain stability and implement confidence-building measures could soon be overtaken by environmental changes in the region.

As global warming takes its toll on the South China Sea (SCS), it has begun to redefine the very nature and physical characteristics of the region. These transformations have the potential to further escalate the already heightened competition among states, increasing the likelihood of conflict. As noted by Will Rogers in a report by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), climate change could indeed “act as an accelerant to destabilization.”

A Bevy of Disputes

The waters, islands, and resources of the SCS have been hotly contested among the littoral states of Southeast Asia in recent decades. Overlapping claims to maritime jurisdictions, Economic Exclusive Zones (EEZs), and various islands have been further complicated by rising nationalism in the region. Recent and ongoing discoveries of significant natural resources — including fish stocks, minerals, natural gas, and oil reserves — have only reinforced territorial claims and buttressed hard-line positions.  China, Vietnam, and Taiwan all lay claim to the entirety of the SCS, while the Philippines claims a significant portion as well. In addition to contradicting one another, these claims also tend to overlap with the EEZs of other countries in the region.

Other quarrels abound. Vietnam and China have yet to resolve an ongoing bilateral dispute over their competing territorial claims to the Paracel Islands, though China has maintained effective control of the islands since 1974. Meanwhile the Spratly Islands are engulfed in a multilateral dispute among China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia, all of whom maintain overlapping claims to various features of the islands.

Some progress has been made establishing mechanisms to at least manage the potential outbreak of conflict, such as the 2002 Declaration of Conduct. Other confidence-building measures have met with reasonable success, though these have also been unable to address the underlying causes of the disputes.

Environmental vicissitudes could potentially negate what progress has been achieved thus far. In his CNAS report, Rogers strives to evaluate how concerns over global warming — and especially its effects on resource development — affect the foreign policies of SCS states. This specifically applies to fish stocks, the growing demand for alternative forms of energy, and the recent influx of droughts in the region.  

Shifting Seas, Rising Tides

As CNAS scholar M. Taylor Fravel notes, SCS countries have in part sought to assert their territorial claims through commercial fishing — or, in the case of China, by challenging the commercial activities of other states. This has already led to a number of confrontations between countries, a worrisome development given the rising naval capabilities in the region. For example, in 2010, diplomatic relations between China and Japan were temporarily suspended after a Chinese fishing vessel rammed a Japanese patrol boat.

The effects of global warming may further complicate this situation. As sea temperatures in the SCS continue to rise, large quantities of fish will migrate north into even more heavily disputed waters. As fishermen are forced to follow suit, the probability of future confrontations will increase, raising the likelihood of a more serious conflict.

Moreover, the level of fishing required to maintain present per capita consumption would need to increase 25 percent by 2030. This will lead to higher levels of fishing in an increasingly smaller and more volatile segment of the SCS. The fact that present-day fishing, which is more dispersed and less abundant, has already led to near outbreaks of conflict does not bode well for the future.

Droughts and water contamination have also become a growing problem in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, concerted development efforts have led to increased pollution and a constrained freshwater supply. These concerns are exacerbated by rising sea levels and the corresponding increase in sodium deposits on the mainland, which is detrimental to agriculture. With Vietnam’s development efforts centered partially on increased agricultural exports, the country cannot afford such setbacks.

Meanwhile, China’s hydroelectric power output was set to decline by 30-40 percent by the end of 2011 due to increased droughts. Accordingly, China is now seeking to double the number of its hydroelectric dams on the Mekong River, aiming to construct four new dams by 2020. China is pressing on in spite of protests from countries downstream that rely heavily on water from the Mekong for agriculture, especially Vietnam and Thailand. With Vietnam already struggling to maintain adequate levels of clean water, future cutbacks could be devastating. China’s disregard for the needs of other countries with respect to the Mekong River does not bode well for its behavior in the SCS.

Alternative Forms of Energy

As evidenced by China’s intensified development of hydroelectric power, concerns over climate change have led to increased investment in alternative forms of energy in the region. Although greener for the environment, this poses distinct geopolitical challenges.

Not least is the threat of nuclear proliferation in the region as countries seek to limit their dependence on oil. Vietnam plans to harness nearly 1,000 Megawatts (MWs) of nuclear power by 2020, 4,000 MWs by 2025, and 10,000 MWs by 2030. Indonesia and Thailand are set to achieve similar goals by 2020. This will inevitably foster fears over the possible military applications of nuclear programs, especially given the already hostile environment and intense competition in the region. Although the IAEA and a regional non-proliferation regime might help reduce tensions, nuclear reactors may further complicate an already complicated environment.

The countries of the region have considerable reason to reduce their dependence on oil. Oil exploitation in the SCS is both expensive and politically risky (if not impossible), and oil imported from the increasingly unstable Middle East must pass through the narrow and vulnerable straits of Malacca. However, all nations in the region will continue to actively pursue oil reserves in the sea, both for export and domestic consumption, even if demand is reduced. Vietnam, for example, could see oil exports as a way to offset its faltering agricultural sector. Moreover, as economies in the region continue to grow, so too will the demand for energy.

New investments in alternative energy will also lead to increased demand for the minerals associated with such technology, which can be found in abundance in the SCS. States developing these technologies will be driven to compete for these resources. Consequently, energy competition will be driven not merely by oil and natural gas, but also by rising demand for alternative energy.

Accommodating a New Actor

Still, all is not lost for the SCS. If states in the region approach the problem cooperatively, tensions may yet be defused by joint ventures in resource development.

However, with the emergence of global warming as a predominant non-state actor, the world is beginning to witness the very real intersection of climate change and geopolitics. As transformations in the environment continue to reshape the distribution of natural resources and states are forced to seek out new ones, resource competition will arise like never before.

- Derek Bolton is a contributor to Foreign Policy In FocusOriginally published by Institute for Policy Studies licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.