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October 19, 2018

DND holds off infra dev’t in Pag-Asa

The defense department is holding off repairs and other planned infrastructure projects on Pag-Asa Island, one of seven islets and two reefs occupied by Filipino troops in the disputed Spratly Islands.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario pointed out that the maintenance and repair of facilities in Pag-Asa Island are not covered by the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of parties involved in the West Philippine Sea territorial disputes.

“Repair and maintenance is okay but before we can move construction materials to Pag-Asa, we have to build a port and doing so could change the landscape. It’s not allowed in the DOC,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said in reference to earlier approved plans for the repair of Rancudo airfield in the island.

Rancudo airfield is a key supply line for the troops and 200 civilian residents.

Pag-Asa Island is the seat of Kalayaan town of Palawan that has jurisdiction over the Philipine-held territory in the disputed region, claimed in whole or in part by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

“We cannot repair the (airfield) because the construction materials will be coming from outside. Getting inside, if it will be by aircraft it will be very expensive and very impractical. So you have to bring in the boat but the boat cannot come in because there is no pier,” Gazmin said.

Security officials have been calling on the government to start immediate repairs of the Philippine facilities in the region, not necessarily to antagonize China and other claimant-countries, but to improve the morale and welfare of troops manning the outposts.

One security official noted that it is only the Philippines that is not doing anything to improve living conditions of the troops manning the outposts located in the middle of nowhere.

He said this is contrast to what China, Vietnam and Taiwan are doing in their respective controlled areas.

Marines are deployed on a three-month rotation basis in the disputed region but this is now being threatened by the increasing presence of Chinese warships and coast guard vessels in the area.

Ayungin Shoal, located within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), is being guarded by Marines on board a grounded Navy supply ship, the BRP Sierra Madre.

China, despite being a party of the DOC signed in 2000, has become very aggressive in laying its maritime claim to almost the entire South China Sea, building artificial islets on four reefs despite protests by the Philippine government.

Six- and three-story buildings, as well as ports, helipads, runway with gun implacement, are now sprouting out from these Chinese-built and controlled artificial islets formerly known as Kennar Reef, Calderon Reef and Burgos Reef by Manila.

Aside from completing its reclamation of these former obscure West Philippine Sea areas, Beijing is also developing further the Panganiban or Mischief Reef, an area located within the territorial waters of Palawan.

‘Serious concern’

China’s Foreign Ministry expressed serious concern yesterday after the Philippines said it would resume repair and reconstruction works on disputed islands in the South China Sea, saying Manila was infringing on Chinese sovereignty.

The Philippines had halted activities last year over concerns about the effect on an international arbitration complaint filed against China.

Manila called on all countries last October to stop construction work on small islands and reefs in the South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China.

China itself is undertaking massive reclamation works in the area, while Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam have also been improving their facilities.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said it was “seriously concerned” by the remarks of Secretary Del Rosario.

“On the one hand the Philippines makes unreasonable criticism about China’s normal building activities on its own isles, and on the other announces it will resume repairs on an airport, runway and other illegal constructions on China’s Spratly Islands, which it illegally occupies,” Hua said.

“This is not only a series infringement of China’s sovereignty, but it also exposes the Philippines’ hypocrisy,” she told a daily news briefing, calling on the Philippines to withdraw from the islands.

The Philippine foreign ministry said the works, including repairs to an airstrip, did not violate an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea because they would not alter the status quo in the disputed area. The 2002 code was signed by China and 10 Southeast Asian states in Phnom Penh.

In 2013, Manila filed an arbitration case at The Hague questioning the maritime boundaries claimed by Beijing. Del Rosario said Manila expects a decision in February next year. ; – With Reuters

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DND holds off infra dev’t in Pag-Asa

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

Top Asian News at 8:30 a.m. GMT

BEIJING (AP) — A typhoon struck China’s southernmost island of Hainan on Tuesday, forcing the cancellation of dozens of flights as it headed northwest toward Vietnam. About 90,000 people in southern China were evacuated from high-risk areas ahead of Typhoon Kalmaegi, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said. But the typhoon’s course was giving only a glancing blow to southern China as the storm headed toward northern Vietnam, where it was expected to make landfall Tuesday night.

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — One of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes is showing signs of heightened unrest and an eruption is possible within weeks, government scientists warned Tuesday. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised the alert level to “critical” for Mount Mayon in eastern Albay province late Monday after recording an escalation of unrest over a 15-hour period, including 39 incidents of hot rocks falling in the summit area and 32 low-frequency volcanic earthquakes.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban attacker detonated his car bomb next to an international military convoy on Tuesday, killing three troops from the NATO-led force and wounding nearly 20 troops and civilians, officials said. Security forces in full battle gear administered CPR to wounded comrades shortly after the 8:10 a.m. blast, which rattled nearby neighborhoods and sent a plume of smoke high into the sky. The attack happened only a couple hundred yards from the U.S. Embassy, on a main Kabul road that leads to the airport.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The music publishers for American rapper Eminem filed a lawsuit Tuesday against New Zealand’s ruling political party over the music it used in a campaign commercial. Detroit-based Eight Mile Style and Martin Affiliated both claim the National Party breached copyright laws by using Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself.” Joel Martin, a spokesman for the two companies, said they filed a case in the New Zealand High Court and are seeking damages.

TWANTE, Myanmar (AP) — For generations, the Myanmar town of Twante has been known for its thriving pottery industry. Even today, residents can be seen sitting on wooden stools beneath the thatched roofs of their homes, placing lumps of soft clay onto wheels and shaping it with the gentle press of their fingertips into pots for cooking, storing water, preserving fish or flowers. But the opening up of this once-isolated Southeast Asian of 50 million in 2011, when ruling generals handed over power to a nominally civilian government, has affected traditional ways. Modernization and the reluctance of the younger generation to learn the art of pottery, compounded by the cost of transporting the bulky and fragile products, have turned it into an unstable, dying industry.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. says North Korea is using detained American citizens as political pawns, after a 24-year-old Californian man was sentenced to six years of hard labor. Matthew Miller was convicted Sunday of entering the country illegally to commit espionage. The court said he tore up his visa on arriving in Pyongyang April 10 and had wanted to experience prison life so that he could secretly investigate North Korea’s human rights situation.

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Experts worry a health crisis could be looming nearly two weeks after massive flooding engulfed much of Kashmir, with countless bloated livestock carcasses now floating across the waterlogged region. Doctors are already seeing cases of diarrhea, skin allergies and fungus among the population. Rescue workers are rushing in medical aid, water pumps and purification systems.

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s army says a group of militants have attacked one of its positions from neighboring Afghanistan, sparking a shootout that left 11 insurgents and three soldiers killed. In a statement, the military says “a group of terrorists” from Afghanistan attacked the Pakistani post in the North Waziristan tribal region on Tuesday. The military has been carrying out a major offensive in the area against local and foreign militants since June 15.

BANGKOK (AP) — Police on the scenic resort island of Koh Tao in southern Thailand conducted a sweep of hotels and workers’ residences Tuesday searching for clues into the slayings of two British tourists whose nearly naked, battered bodies were found on a beach a day earlier. More than 70 police officers were deployed to Koh Tao, a popular diving destination in the Gulf of Thailand, as the country’s leaders called for a swift investigation into a pair of brutal killings that marked a new blow to Thailand’s tourism industry.

In this photo by Achmad Ibrahim, an Indonesian worker wears a mask depicting the Japanese character Doraemon during a rally against outsourcing and low wages near Indonesia’s presidential palace in Jakarta on Monday. Thousands of factory workers took to the streets of the capital to take part in the protest. The demonstrators shouted “End the temporary contract system now!” as they waved colorful flags and banners lambasting the system and demanding more benefits.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — At a recent political rally in Wellington, indicted Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom jokingly asked members of New Zealand’s spy agency to raise their hands. “Please don’t worry,” he said, to rising laughter and applause. “Even though we are going to shut you down, we will find you guys new jobs.”

BEIJING (AP) — Officials in a southern Chinese town where a proposed garbage incinerator drew thousands of protesters over the weekend say no firm plans have been made for the plant’s location and that a public hearing will be held on the issue. Hundreds of people marched against the project in Bulou county in southern Guangdong province Sunday, a day after 10,000 to 20,000 protesters came out to denounce the plan, according to three residents who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone.

Flooding from days of heavy monsoon rains partially submerged the city of Srinigar in Kashmir and left more than 400 people dead in northern Pakistan and India. The flood waters have begun to recede, but vast fields of crops have been destroyed and tens of thousands of families have lost all their possessions. Japanese were thrilled to see one of their own, Kei Nishikori, become the first Asian man to play in a Grand Slam tennis final. Ultimately, the 24-year-old lost to Croatian Marin Cilic in the lopsided U.S. Open final, but Nishikori’s run is expected to boost his career and tennis’ popularity in a country where baseball and soccer reign.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Former National Security Agency systems analyst turned leaker Edward Snowden said Monday that the NSA is collecting mass surveillance data on New Zealanders through its XKeyscore program and has set up a facility in the South Pacific nation’s largest city to tap into vast amounts of data. Snowden talked via video link from Russia to hundreds of people at Auckland’s Town Hall.

BEIJING (AP) — Taking a cue from an American TV program, the Chinese city of Chongqing has created a smartphone sidewalk lane, offering a path for those too engrossed in messaging and tweeting to watch where they’re going. But the property manager says it’s intended to be ironic — to remind people that it’s dangerous to tweet while walking the street.

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Top Asian News at 8:30 a.m. GMT