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January 23, 2018

Chinese patriotism fuels cruises to disputed isles

ABOARD THE COCONUT PRINCESS (AP) — On a cruise more about politics than pleasure, Zhang Jing watched the gray shells of the Paracel Islands emerge from the purple, pre-dawn South China Sea.

Cheers erupted on board at the sight of the distant land, and Zhang and the other passengers scurried to take pictures of each other at the railing holding China’s bright red flag. A few miles away, a Chinese navy frigate cruised by silently, part of the country’s continuing watch over the tiny islands it has long claimed as part of its territory.

“This is the southern frontier of China,” Zhang, a policeman, said when he had reached one of the islands. “As a Chinese, I feel proud to come here and declare sovereignty.”

With the Tangshan resident and 167 other Chinese tourists on board, the ship had traveled more than 200 miles south of Hainan Island off China’s southern coast to what they said was an indisputable outpost of their country.

Each had waited months for permission to join the five-day tour, and spent from $1,200 to about $2,000 to visit these barren patches of sand, making do with the bland cabbage and noodles on board and blackouts of cellphone service.

The passengers came to celebrate China’s growing power in the region, and to help press its claim to the 130 coral islands and reefs of the Paracels, known to the Chinese as the Xishas.

China is locked in disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and other neighbors over much of the strategically crucial South China Sea, which holds important shipping lanes, rich fishing waters and — possibly — billions of barrels of oil. Patriotic tourists have become the region’s latest territorial chess pieces.

China has stationed hundreds of troops on the Paracels and even built a massive government headquarters in the northern islands, though Vietnam and Taiwan also claim the territory.

The tour company that Zhang used visits the southern Paracels. Since starting the tours in May 2013, it has ferried some 3,000 people to the islands, which are no bigger than a square mile. Videographers from The Associated Press were the first foreign journalists to join one of the tours.

The cruises are useful to China because under international law, it must prove a civilian and not just a military use for the islands to claim sovereignty, said Kang Lin, a researcher at China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies.

“Tourism to Xisha is a very good civilian tool to declare our sovereignty over the islands, and it is supported by international laws,” Kang said. “China will speed up its exploration in the Xisha Islands.”

The dispute has at times become heated, and there are concerns it could escalate. Over the summer, Vietnamese and Chinese boats repeatedly rammed each other in the Spratly Islands, several hundred miles south of the Paracels, after the Chinese moved an oil rig into contested waters.

Bernard Loo Fook Weng, a military studies professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said stoking nationalist fervor could backfire on leaders in Beijing if they eventually opt for a more conciliatory approach with China’s neighbors.

“Playing the popular card is always potentially dangerous because you may unleash forces you can’t control,” Weng said. “But if the Chinese really want to reinforce its claims to the Paracels and if necessary resort to military force, it helps to get the population on its side.”

Other than the passing navy frigate and a few sailors hitching a ride on the Coconut Princess, the tour group saw few signs of territorial tensions.

At dawn on the second day, the ship anchored a few miles off the coast of what the Chinese call Quanfu Island. Later, motorized inflatable boats took the visitors to three different islands where they snorkeled, swam and posed for pictures with their ever-present flags.

Chen Junxiang, an environmental agency official from the central Chinese province of Sichuan, donned an oxygen tank and dove among the coral and fish off Yagong Island. He said coming here was a lifelong dream, though he could have taken a more luxurious cruise somewhere else for the same money.

“I am here for tourism, but also to declare sovereignty and advocate for environmental protection,” Chen said. “We really should protect the environment here, otherwise we have nothing to leave for our next generations.”

Fisherman Fan Qiusheng waited for the group on the beach of Yingyu Island outside the wood-and-tarp shack where he lives nine months of the year. He and 18 other people are paid to live on the island; he said the central government gives him 1,350 yuan ($220) a month plus food, water, electricity and other supplies. His wife and five children live on Hainan, and he visits them about every two months.

“Making money is important, but keeping the islands is also important,” Fan said. “If we don’t live on these islands, other people like the Vietnamese will come and stay here. We are living here, so these islands are our territory.”

___

Jack Chang reported from Beijing.

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Chinese patriotism fuels cruises to disputed isles

Danish Police Arrest Sea Shepherd Team Trying to Stop Faroe Islands Whale Slaughter

The Royal Danish Navy arrested 14 volunteers from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on Saturday for trying to intervene in the slaughter of 33 pilot whales in the Faroe Islands, a protectorate of Denmark.

A team of six Sea Shepherd volunteers spotted a pod of pilot whales from shore on Sandoy Island in the remote North Atlantic archipelago on Saturday and alerted Sea Shepherd’s small flotilla of boats, which has been patrolling the icy waters for nearly three months. Sea Shepherd has been trying to stop the annual Faroese whale hunt known as ;grindadráp, or grind.

During the grind, islanders drive pilot whales and dolphins into shallow bays, where the animals are butchered to the cheers of locals watching from shore.

On Saturday, Sea Shepherd volunteers arrived at the beach where the whales were spotted before the whalers could reach the site. The Royal Danish Navy immediately dispatched a helicopter and high-speed inflatable boats to the island and arrested the six land-based volunteers who had waded into the water to protect the whales as well as eight crew members aboard three Sea Shepherd vessels. The boats and all camera and video equipment were confiscated, according to Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson.

“There is a new law in the islands that says unauthorized people must stay at least one mile away from the grind,” said Watson in a phone interview. “Our attorney advised us to say we were only there as observers, but we said, ‘Absolutely not.’ We aren’t there to observe. We’re there to try and stop the killing.”

Sea Shepherd’s anti-whaling campaign in the Faroes, dubbed “Operation GrindStop 2014,” deploys drones and live video feeds to document the slaughter while land- and sea-based volunteers attempt to drive the whales away from their would-be killers. (The Faroe Islands campaign is funded in part by the Skoll Foundation, part of the Jeff Skoll Group, which includes Participant Media, TakePart’s parent company.)

The 14 volunteers have been released and their possessions returned, except for the data cards in their photography equipment. The land-based team of six are scheduled to appear in court on Monday, while the eight sea-based crew members will not have a hearing until Sept. 25.

According to Sea Shepherd, the government wants to hold the vessels as evidence until then.

One of the boats is a 40-foot Zodiac, the BS Sheen, donated by actor Charlie Sheen.

“The Faroese whalers brutally slaughtered an entire pod of 33 pilot whales today,” Sheen said in a statement. “I am proud that a vessel bearing my name was there and did all it could to try to stop this atrocity.”

Denmark, he added, “is complicit in the killing.”

Watson noted that Denmark’s defense of the whalers violates its commitment as a European Union member to oppose whaling.

“One good thing is that this gives us concrete evidence of the Danish navy and police supporting the grind,” said Watson. “The Faroes are not part of the EU, but they are a Danish protectorate. They get EU subsidies through Denmark. This now gives us a case to take to the European Parliament for a complaint.”

Despite the whale slaughter and the arrests, Watson said this season has been a success for Sea Shepherd and the whales.

“It was inevitable that they’d have a whale kill, but we managed to stop them for the past 85 days,” he said.

Watson said Sea Shepherd diverted 270 whales from the islands over the summer.

;In 2010, whalers killed 964 whales, and last year the number rose to 1,360. This season’s toll has only been the 33 pilot whales, along with five beached beaked whales that were slaughtered by islanders.

“Many Danes continue to argue that Denmark is not a whaling nation,” Watson wrote on his Facebook page. “The actions of the Danish Navy and the Danish police demonstrate that Denmark is very much a whaling nation.”

Related stories on TakePart:

Sea Shepherd to Deploy Drones to Stop Massive Whale Slaughter

The Drone War That Is Helping Save the World’s Wildlife

SeaWorld Gives Up Fight to Keep Trainers in the Water With Killer Whales

The Dolphin-Killing Season Is About to Begin in Japan; Here’s What You Can Do About It

Original article from TakePart

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Danish Police Arrest Sea Shepherd Team Trying to Stop Faroe Islands Whale Slaughter

Climate concerns aired as Pacific summit opens

A summit of Pacific leaders opened in Palau on Tuesday with a call for developed nations to take action on climate change and stop overfishing the world’s largest ocean.

The host of this year’s Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Palau President Tommy Remengesau, said small island nations had effectively become “the conscience of the world” on environmental matters.

“The ocean is our way of life,” he said at an elaborate sunset opening ceremony featuring club-wielding warriors dressed in loin cloths and palm fronds.

“It sustains and nurtures us, provides us with the basics of our Pacific island cultures, out very identities.”

Remengesau said the Pacific Ocean was “under siege” from pollution and overfishing, leaving members of the 15-nation PIF vulnerable as many of them lie barely one metre (three feet) above sea level.

“We must recognise that the long-term solution to ocean warming, rising seas and ocean acidification is a big global cut in CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions,” he said.

This week’s meeting seeks to maintain momentum from the 2013 summit in the Marshall Islands, where Forum nations signed the Majuro Declaration, committing them to ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adopting renewable energy.

Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak said it was an opportunity to drive the message home once again ahead of a special UN summit on climate change in New York on September 23.

“Climate change must be front and centre of the regional agenda,” he said.

While the small island nations that make up the majority of Forum members have no control over the industrialised world’s greenhouse gas emissions , they can influence the direction of Pacific fisheries.

Remengesau said it was time to take a stand against industrialised fishing in the Pacific, much of which is conducted by so-called “distant water” fleets from as far afield as Europe.

The Pacific tuna industry is worth about $4.0 billion a year annually but relatively little of the money trickles back to Forum countries.

Scientists say tuna stocks are dwindling quickly, with the southern bluefin variety down an estimated 96 percent after decades of overfishing.

Remengesau has launched a proposal to completely ban commercial fishing in Palau’s 630,000 square kilometre (240,000 square mile) exclusive economic zone — an area the size of France — by 2018.

He said the drastic step was needed to allow fish populations to replenish and let the ocean heal.

The PIF summit will continue until Friday, when member nations will hold discussions with so-called “dialogue partners” including the United States, China and the European Union.

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Climate concerns aired as Pacific summit opens