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« Porsche Digital, Inc. opens location in Silicon Valley | Main | IAV develops new close-coupled diesel exhaust gas aftertreatment system for improved emissions reduction » A new study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) estimates heavy fuel oil (HFO) use, HFO carriage, the use and carriage of other fuels, black carbon (BC) emissions, and emissions of other air and climate pollutants for the year 2015, with projections to 2020 and 2025. According to the report, potentially large increases in BC emissions may occur in the Arctic, further exacerbating warming, if ships are diverted from the Panama and Suez canals to take advantage of shorter routes to and from Asia, Europe, and North America. If even a small percentage (1%–2%) of large cargo vessels are diverted from the Panama and Suez Canals through the Arctic over the next decade, BC emissions could rise significantly—jumping up to 46% from 2015 to 2025. Dwindling sea ice is opening new shipping routes through the Arctic and shipping activity in the Arctic is expected to rise as oil and gas development increases and as ships take advantage of shorter trans-Arctic routes from Asia to Europe and North America. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, 2014a) estimates that 75% of Arctic sea ice volume has been lost since the 1980s. The Northwest Passage (NWP) and Northern Sea Route (NSR) … are the two most economically advantageous routes for trans-Arctic shipping. The trip between Shanghai and Europe is shortened by about a third when the NSR is taken in lieu of the traditional route through the Suez Canal. Similarly, the trip from Shanghai to New York City also is shortened by a third when taking the NWP instead of the path through the Panama Canal. Shorter distances result in fuel, labor, and time savings. The ICCT report uses exactEarth satellite Automatic Identification System (AIS) data along with ship characteristic data from IHS Fairplay to examine shipping in three Arctic regions: (1) the Geographic Arctic (above 58.95 ˚N); (2) the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Arctic as defined in the Polar Code; and (3) the US Arctic, defined as the portion of the US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) within the IMO Arctic. The report found that shipping within the Arctic as defined by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) consumed an estimated 436,000 tonnes of fuel and emitted 193 tonnes of black carbon in 2015.  This is almost quadruple the most recent (2012, by DNV) estimate. HFO was the most consumed marine fuel in the Arctic in 2015. In the IMO Arctic, HFO represented nearly 57% of the nearly half million tonnes (t) of fuel consumed by ships, followed by distillate (43%); almost no liquefied natural gas (LNG) was consumed in this area. General cargo vessels consumed the most HFO in the IMO Arctic, using 66,000 t, followed by oil tankers (43,000 t), and cruise ships (25,000 t). HFO also dominated fuel carriage, in tonnes, and fuel transport, in tonne-nautical miles (t-nm) in the Arctic in 2015. Although only 42% of ships in the IMO Arctic operated on HFO in 2015, these ships accounted for 76% of fuel carried and 56% of fuel transported in this region. Specifically, bulk carriers, container ships, oil tankers, general cargo vessels, and fishing vessels dominated HFO carriage and transport in the IMO Arctic, together accounting for more than 75% of HFO carried and transported in the IMO Arctic in 2015. Considering the quantity of fuel these vessels carry on board and the distances they travel each year, these ships may pose a higher risk for HFO spills than others. the ICCT team concluded. Among the other key findings of the report: Some of the emissions growth between 2012 and 2015 can be attributed to increased vessel traffic, with satellites detecting roughly double the number of ship miles traveled in 2015 compared to 2012.  Emissions from ships operating in areas that were previously ice locked and inaccessible to marine traffic can be clearly seen in 2015, particularly on the Northern Sea Route off of Russia’s coast. Estimates of HFO use and BC emissions is heavily dependent upon the definition of the Arctic.  IMO’s narrow definition of the Arctic, which excludes significant coastal areas around Iceland and Norway, excludes 85% of ship traffic, 90% of fuel use, and 85% of BC emissions from shipping in the Geographic Arctic north of 59 degrees latitude. By 2025, emissions of CO and black carbon by ships in the Arctic are projected to increase 5% to 50%, depending upon the level of ship diversions from the Panama and Suez canals through the Arctic as well as the geographic definition of the Arctic used. While less than half of the ships in the Arctic use HFO, it represents 75% of the fuel onboard ships in the Arctic because larger ships, with larger fuel tanks, tend to use HFO instead of cleaner distillate fuels. The majority of HFO carriage in the Geographic Arctic is attributable to ships flagged to non-Arctic states with major ship registries like Panama, the Marshall Islands, Liberia, Malta, and the Bahamas.  This points to the need for an international standard on HFO use and carriage at the IMO, the authors said. The authors suggested that several policy alternatives could reduce the dual risks of air pollution and fuel oil spills from ships in the Arctic, including regional emission control policies; restricting the use of HFO, the carriage of HFO, or both; and regulating BC emissions regionally or globally. Explicitly restricting the use and carriage of HFO in the Arctic would greatly reduce the risks of HFO oil spills and would also reduce air pollution, including BC, provided ships operate on distillate, LNG, or other alternative fuels. An even stronger approach would be to prohibit the use of petroleum-based fuels (e.g., HFO and distillate), which would require a complete shift to cleaner fuels (e.g., LNG, fuel cells), albeit at substantial cost to existing fleets. Finally, Arctic BC emissions could be addressed through regulations that either establish new emission standards for marine engines, require the use of low- or zero-BC fuels, or mandate the use of BC reduction devices such as diesel particulate filters. Such a policy also may encourage a shift toward fuels that are less damaging than HFO when spilled. … Policies could be implemented at the global, regional, national, or subnational scales. Consensus policies that apply specifically to the Arctic region could be effective because ships registered to Arctic states, particularly Russia, account for the majority of HFO use, carriage, and BC emissions in the Arctic. However, because the diversion of ships from traditional trade routes in favor of trans-Arctic routes is likely as the Arctic becomes ice-free for longer periods, policies that apply to the global fleet, or ships intending to sail in the Arctic, are more attractive. Global policies are also desirable given that emissions of BC outside of the IMO Arctic can be, and are, transported northward. Thus, global policies that prohibit the use and carriage of HFO and reduce BC from marine engines will help ensure that the impacts on the Arctic environment from ships are meaningfully reduced.


News Article | March 3, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

A somehow eerie-looking cosmic jellyfish along with other biological curiosities have been discovered by biologists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in their latest dive in the remote American Samoa region of the Pacific. Onboard the NOAA research ship Okeanos Explorer, the team had been conducting research at the Utu Seamount, with the mission to hold one of the first expansive explorations of the 13,581-square mile marine sanctuary where the seamount belongs. Dubbed the 2017 American Samoa Expedition, the three-year campaign will gather crucial scientific data in and around the protected areas. American Samoa stands out as a biodiversity hotspot, with its three marine sanctuaries a site for protecting massive coral and deepwater reefs and even archeological artifacts. “Much remains unknown about the deep-sea habitats and geology in and around these protected places,” NOAA team member and molecular ecologist Santiago Herrera said in a Gizmodo report. There is also much to be known about the Samoa Islands and seamounts forming an “age-progressive volcanic hotspot.” Volcanoes on the east are young while those in the west are progressively older, and it remains unclear how Samoan volcanoes evolve over time. “This expedition will sample various volcanoes at different stages in their development, including the young active volcano, Vailulu’u, and the older Samoan volcanic feature that defines the island of Tutuila,” the group stated in its mission plan. The sea dives, conducted from Feb. 16 to 26, used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to unravel a number of new biological finds, including cosmic jellyfish, Venus flytrap anemone, and a range of mollusks. The translucent, UFO-like jellyfish, imaged during their first dive, appeared to have rows of tentacles that face up and down and were likely useful in catching prey. It hovered through the deep and dark ocean, with its digestive system in a red color and its reproductive organs in yellow. Further investigations will be done to determine if the cosmic jellyfish is a new species or not. A hydroid was also spotted making rounds in Leoso Seamount, a place straddling the boundary from the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the American Samoa to the Cook Islands EEZ. Also alien-resembling in appearance, it is a close relative of many jellyfish species and attaches itself to rock while snatching floating food through a two-tier tentacle mouth. The researchers uncovered at least a dozen potentially new species made up of sponges, sea stars, corals, and other creatures they took samples of. The collections, according to Herrera, will set new species designations if needed, as well as enable DNA analyses for greater insight into biological relationships and evolutions among similar species. The NOAA presents photos and videos of their amazing finds online for the public to see and relish. Remember the glowing purple bob discovered by E/V Nautilus ship scientists deep beneath California waters last year? The googly-eyed squid, first thought to be a cuttlefish, actually was a stubby squid (Rossia pacifica) and looked like a cross between a squid and octopus. As for its strange eyes, scientists explained that the animal activates a sticky mucus jacket as it burrows deep into the sediment to camouflage – resulting in eyes poking out to spot its prey, which includes small fish and shrimp. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | June 27, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

A warming climate is not just melting the Arctic's sea ice; it is stirring the remaining ice faster, increasing the odds that ice-rafted pollution will foul a neighboring country's waters, says a new study. Declining sea ice is opening more of the Arctic Ocean to industrial development and resource extraction, raising concerns that oil spills and other pollution could endanger the region. The new study, which maps the movement of sea ice in the region, underscores the risk of contaminated sea ice drifting from the economic zone of one country to another's. Eight nations have exclusive economic zones off their Arctic coasts. In the study, published this week in the journal Earth's Future, researchers at Columbia and McGill universities find that faster moving sea ice is responsible for exporting 1 million square kilometers of ice -- an area bigger than France and Germany combined -- from one nation to another each year. That's about a fifth of all sea ice formed. "If you have a Deepwater Horizon-type spill where sea ice is forming, the oil can get into the ice and be transported to another country's waters," said study coauthor Stephanie Pfirman, a researcher at Barnard College and Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "We show that what happens in your EEZ doesn't necessarily stay there." As Arctic sea ice thins and retreats, the winds are pushing it faster and farther, allowing year-old ice to escape the summer-melt front, even as the front advances north. Using satellite images and GPS-tagged ice buoys, between 1988 and 2014 the researchers tracked 239,000 parcels of ice from their formation to their eventual demise. Consistent with earlier findings, they confirmed that ice floes have picked up their pace by about 14 percent each decade. Partly due to this acceleration, they calculate that 21 percent of all ice, covering 1 million square kilometers, drifted beyond the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, where it formed. The EEZ extends 200 miles off a country's coastline, but nations can extend their economic activities further if they can show that the sea bottom continues from their continental shelf. Most Arctic sea ice forms in Russian waters, making Russia the region's top exporter of ice as well. Most Russian ice drifts into waters off Norway and Greenland. The United States is the region's second largest exporter, offloading most of its ice on Russia. The U.S., in turn, receives most of its imported ice from Canada. "These regions are all connected," said the study's lead author, Robert Newton, an oceanographer at Lamont-Doherty. "If you have oil spills off one continental shelf, the ice will move that pollution to other nations, and to any wildlife refuges that we may create. If you're planning for conservation and stewardship you need to take a pan-arctic view." The Arctic Ocean is expected to lose much of its summer sea ice by the 2030s as the region continues to warm twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The United States and its seven Arctic neighbors are already planning for the coming resource rush. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, and 30 percent of its natural gas, lie beneath the Arctic seafloor. Open waters in the summer are also expected to bring an uptick in freight shipping and tourist cruise ships. The consequences of a spill could be enormous. In a worst-case scenario modeled earlier this year by study coauthor Bruno Tremblay and his colleagues, an oil spill at the end of the summer drilling season could be carried by sea ice 4,000 kilometers away, polluting up to 2 million square kilometers of ocean. The cleanup would be hampered by months of cold and near-complete darkness. By the following summer the contamination would reach multiple countries, they found. As shrinking sea ice alters the habitat of polar bears, seals, whales and other Arctic wildlife, environmental groups, including most recently the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, have recommended creating a series of protected areas off the coasts of Canada and Greenland, where ice is projected to persist. The current study shows just how vulnerable downstream wildlife may be. "We all know that pollution in a watershed ends up in lakes and rivers downstream," said Tremblay, who holds joint appointments at McGill University and Lamont-Doherty. "But I don't think the concept of an 'iceshed' is fully appreciated. The countries around the Arctic are all connected, so therefore we need to develop agreements that protect coastal waters where ice is formed." The paper, "Increasing Transnational Sea Ice Exchange in a Changing Arctic Ocean," is available from the authors or the Columbia University press office. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is Columbia University's home for Earth science research. Its scientists develop fundamental knowledge about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world, from the planet's deepest interior to the outer reaches of its atmosphere, on every continent and in every ocean, providing a rational basis for the difficult choices facing humanity. http://www. | @LamontEarth The Earth Institute, Columbia University mobilizes the sciences, education and public policy to achieve a sustainable earth. http://www. .


News Article | June 27, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

A warming climate is not just melting the Arctic's sea ice; it is stirring the remaining ice faster, increasing the odds that ice-rafted pollution will foul a neighboring country's waters, says a new study. Declining sea ice is opening more of the Arctic Ocean to industrial development and resource extraction, raising concerns that oil spills and other pollution could endanger the region. The new study, which maps the movement of sea ice in the region, underscores the risk of contaminated sea ice drifting from the economic zone of one country to another's. Eight nations have exclusive economic zones off their Arctic coasts. In the study, published this week in the journal Earth's Future, researchers at Columbia and McGill universities find that faster moving sea ice is responsible for exporting 1 million square kilometers of ice -- an area bigger than France and Germany combined -- from one nation to another each year. That's about a fifth of all sea ice formed. "If you have a Deepwater Horizon-type spill where sea ice is forming, the oil can get into the ice and be transported to another country's waters," said study coauthor Stephanie Pfirman, a researcher at Barnard College and Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "We show that what happens in your EEZ doesn't necessarily stay there." As Arctic sea ice thins and retreats, the winds are pushing it faster and farther, allowing year-old ice to escape the summer-melt front, even as the front advances north. Using satellite images and GPS-tagged ice buoys, between 1988 and 2014 the researchers tracked 239,000 parcels of ice from their formation to their eventual demise. Consistent with earlier findings, they confirmed that ice floes have picked up their pace by about 14 percent each decade. Partly due to this acceleration, they calculate that 21 percent of all ice, covering 1 million square kilometers, drifted beyond the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, where it formed. The EEZ extends 200 miles off a country's coastline, but nations can extend their economic activities further if they can show that the sea bottom continues from their continental shelf. Most Arctic sea ice forms in Russian waters, making Russia the region's top exporter of ice as well. Most Russian ice drifts into waters off Norway and Greenland. The United States is the region's second largest exporter, offloading most of its ice on Russia. The U.S., in turn, receives most of its imported ice from Canada. "These regions are all connected," said the study's lead author, Robert Newton, an oceanographer at Lamont-Doherty. "If you have oil spills off one continental shelf, the ice will move that pollution to other nations, and to any wildlife refuges that we may create. If you're planning for conservation and stewardship you need to take a pan-arctic view." The Arctic Ocean is expected to lose much of its summer sea ice by the 2030s as the region continues to warm twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The United States and its seven Arctic neighbors are already planning for the coming resource rush. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, and 30 percent of its natural gas, lie beneath the Arctic seafloor. Open waters in the summer are also expected to bring an uptick in freight shipping and tourist cruise ships. The consequences of a spill could be enormous. In a worst-case scenario modeled earlier this year by study coauthor Bruno Tremblay and his colleagues, an oil spill at the end of the summer drilling season could be carried by sea ice 4,000 kilometers away, polluting up to 2 million square kilometers of ocean. The cleanup would be hampered by months of cold and near-complete darkness. By the following summer the contamination would reach multiple countries, they found. As shrinking sea ice alters the habitat of polar bears, seals, whales and other Arctic wildlife, environmental groups, including most recently the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, have recommended creating a series of protected areas off the coasts of Canada and Greenland, where ice is projected to persist. The current study shows just how vulnerable downstream wildlife may be. "We all know that pollution in a watershed ends up in lakes and rivers downstream," said Tremblay, who holds joint appointments at McGill University and Lamont-Doherty. "But I don't think the concept of an 'iceshed' is fully appreciated. The countries around the Arctic are all connected, so therefore we need to develop agreements that protect coastal waters where ice is formed."


News Article | May 24, 2017
Site: www.ictsd.org

WTO members pressed on last week with negotiations on potential disciplines for fisheries subsidies, holding four days of intensive discussions at the organisation’s Geneva headquarters. This cluster of meetings, held from 15-18 May, aimed to address some of the substantive questions surrounding global disciplines for fisheries subsidies as part of an effort by the WTO’s Negotiating Group on Rules (NGR) to reach an outcome on the topic at the upcoming Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires. (See Bridges Weekly, 4 May 2017) Negotiators have met on other occasions throughout the year to discuss options for an outcome at MC11, which will be held from 11-14 December in the Argentine capital city. To date, texts have been tabled by the EU; New Zealand, with Iceland and Pakistan; the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP); the Least Developed Countries (LDCs); and a group of Latin American members. Sources suggest that updated versions, along with a proposal from Indonesia, may be in the pipeline for upcoming talks. Sources familiar with the talks noted that these were of high intensity and saw substantial activity, including engagement from major players, though significant work remains for negotiators between now and the WTO’s annual August hiatus. At last week’s session, several WTO members reportedly pointed to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 and to target of SDG 14.6 in particular, which some sources noted has been a strong political driver behind moving the fisheries negotiations forward. This SDG target sets a deadline of 2020 to “prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies.” (See Bridges Weekly, 22 September 2016) This SDG was one of 17 goals, with related targets, that were adopted by governments at a UN summit in September 2015. This was part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which tackles a host of economic, environmental, and social issues. (See Bridges Weekly, 1 October 2015) Experts estimate that between US$10 billion and US$23.5 billion in economic benefits are lost due to IUU fishing activities each year, and determine that developing countries experience a higher intensity of and are the most debilitated by the negative economic and environmental effects of destructive fishing practices. Furthermore, WTO members have reportedly highlighted SDG 14.6’s recognition of comprehensive special and differential treatment (S&DT) as a key component to the greater fisheries subsidies debate at the global trade body. S&DT can allow developing countries and LDCs to enjoy more flexible time periods for meeting WTO rules and provide them additional help as they develop the capacity to do so. Along with discussing in further depth a communication circulated by Iceland, New Zealand, and Pakistan in late April, which looks at a possible ministerial outcome implementing SDG 14.6, members also examined topics such as what might fall under the new disciplines. Sources say that negotiators looked at the scope of potential disciplines, including the treatment of fishing within and beyond national maritime jurisdictions, and the flexibility of potential subsidy prohibitions given the needs of the WTO’s poorest members. With respect to the scope of the agreement, members discussed obligations to implement disciplines for fisheries subsidies within jurisdictional waters, along with the relationship between international and national rules. Some smaller developing country members reportedly said that disciplines should focus on subsidies that support large-scale, industrial fishing outside exclusive economic zones (EEZ), with some suggesting that smaller fishing activities do not have the same negative ramifications and others emphasising national governments’ role in governing activities in their own waters. Others argued that the vast majority of global fishing takes place within national waters, with some developed country members among those noting that the relevant SDG does not make a distinction between national and international waters. Aside from territorial contingencies, some members proposed other options, such as tailoring these disciplines to reflect the effect of a subsidy on fish stocks, although others said that prohibitions reflecting these ramifications could be difficult to put into practice. The issue of S&DT has long been a key area in the fisheries subsidies negotiations. During last week’s meeting, several members reportedly expressed the view that S&DT should be designed to be supportive of developing economies’ ability to take on the subsidy reforms under discussion for Buenos Aires. Members reportedly debated, for example, whether a future fisheries subsidies deal should be contingent on developing countries receiving the necessary technical assistance and capacity-building. Other ideas raised included giving these countries additional time to put new commitments in place, and whether developing countries would have the option to boost non-harmful subsidies at some stage, in light of the need to grow their relatively underdeveloped fishing activities. This round of talks comes just weeks ahead of the 5-9 June high-level UN Ocean Conference in New York City, which will feature opportunities for participants to discuss the implications of Goal 14.6 on the health of the blue economy and incorporate such considerations into its “Call for Action.” (See Bridges Weekly, 4 May 2017) Back in Geneva, further intensive WTO work is planned, with issues like transparency, a standstill commitment, implementation, dispute settlement, institutional arrangements, and definitions planned for the next cluster of rules negotiating group meetings in mid-June.


News Article | May 29, 2017
Site: www.ictsd.org

WTO members pressed on last week with negotiations on potential disciplines for fisheries subsidies, holding four days of intensive discussions at the organisation’s Geneva headquarters. This cluster of meetings, held from 15-18 May, aimed to address some of the substantive questions surrounding global disciplines for fisheries subsidies as part of an effort by the WTO’s Negotiating Group on Rules (NGR) to reach an outcome on the topic at the upcoming Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires. (See Bridges Weekly, 4 May 2017) Negotiators have met on other occasions throughout the year to discuss options for an outcome at MC11, which will be held from 11-14 December in the Argentine capital city. To date, texts have been tabled by the EU; New Zealand, with Iceland and Pakistan; the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP); the Least Developed Countries (LDCs); and a group of Latin American members. Sources suggest that updated versions, along with a proposal from Indonesia, may be in the pipeline for upcoming talks. Sources familiar with the talks noted that these were of high intensity and saw substantial activity, including engagement from major players, though significant work remains for negotiators between now and the WTO’s annual August hiatus. At last week’s session, several WTO members reportedly pointed to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 and to target of SDG 14.6 in particular, which some sources noted has been a strong political driver behind moving the fisheries negotiations forward. This SDG target sets a deadline of 2020 to “prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies.” (See Bridges Weekly, 22 September 2016) This SDG was one of 17 goals, with related targets, that were adopted by governments at a UN summit in September 2015. This was part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which tackles a host of economic, environmental, and social issues. (See Bridges Weekly, 1 October 2015) Experts estimate that between US$10 billion and US$23.5 billion in economic benefits are lost due to IUU fishing activities each year, and determine that developing countries experience a higher intensity of and are the most debilitated by the negative economic and environmental effects of destructive fishing practices. Furthermore, WTO members have reportedly highlighted SDG 14.6’s recognition of comprehensive special and differential treatment (S&DT) as a key component to the greater fisheries subsidies debate at the global trade body. S&DT can allow developing countries and LDCs to enjoy more flexible time periods for meeting WTO rules and provide them additional help as they develop the capacity to do so. Along with discussing in further depth a communication circulated by Iceland, New Zealand, and Pakistan in late April, which looks at a possible ministerial outcome implementing SDG 14.6, members also examined topics such as what might fall under the new disciplines. Sources say that negotiators looked at the scope of potential disciplines, including the treatment of fishing within and beyond national maritime jurisdictions, and the flexibility of potential subsidy prohibitions given the needs of the WTO’s poorest members. With respect to the scope of the agreement, members discussed obligations to implement disciplines for fisheries subsidies within jurisdictional waters, along with the relationship between international and national rules. Some smaller developing country members reportedly said that disciplines should focus on subsidies that support large-scale, industrial fishing outside exclusive economic zones (EEZ), with some suggesting that smaller fishing activities do not have the same negative ramifications and others emphasising national governments’ role in governing activities in their own waters. Others argued that the vast majority of global fishing takes place within national waters, with some developed country members among those noting that the relevant SDG does not make a distinction between national and international waters. Aside from territorial contingencies, some members proposed other options, such as tailoring these disciplines to reflect the effect of a subsidy on fish stocks, although others said that prohibitions reflecting these ramifications could be difficult to put into practice. The issue of S&DT has long been a key area in the fisheries subsidies negotiations. During last week’s meeting, several members reportedly expressed the view that S&DT should be designed to be supportive of developing economies’ ability to take on the subsidy reforms under discussion for Buenos Aires. Members reportedly debated, for example, whether a future fisheries subsidies deal should be contingent on developing countries receiving the necessary technical assistance and capacity-building. Other ideas raised included giving these countries additional time to put new commitments in place, and whether developing countries would have the option to boost non-harmful subsidies at some stage, in light of the need to grow their relatively underdeveloped fishing activities. This round of talks comes just weeks ahead of the 5-9 June high-level UN Ocean Conference in New York City, which will feature opportunities for participants to discuss the implications of Goal 14.6 on the health of the blue economy and incorporate such considerations into its “Call for Action.” (See Bridges Weekly, 4 May 2017) Back in Geneva, further intensive WTO work is planned, with issues like transparency, a standstill commitment, implementation, dispute settlement, institutional arrangements, and definitions planned for the next cluster of rules negotiating group meetings in mid-June. ICTSD reporting. This article first appeared in Bridges Weekly, 24 May 2017.


News Article | May 26, 2017
Site: www.undercurrentnews.com

One of China’s largest state owned fishing companies, CNFC Overseas Fisheries, has published figures which confirm big increases in Chinese fishing for squid near coastal waters of South America. In CNFC’s recently published 2016 annual report, the firm said the big increase in “fishing densities” -- the number of boats operating in a specific area -- meant catch per unit of effort had “decreased significantly”. According to CNFC, in the nine years between 2007-2015, Chinese fishing activity near Argentine waters, mainly for Argentine Illex squid, increased by 270%. During the same period, Chinese squid fishing activities near Peruvian waters, mainly for giant squid, increased by 515%. “In recent years, the number of Chinese fishing vessels in South America has increased rapidly, and there has been a clear dilution of resources. Particularly in Argentina's fishing grounds, operating density of fishing boats is growing and competition increasingly fierce.” CNFC, which is listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange and whose largest shareholder is state-owned China National Agriculture Development Group, is heavily engaged in squid fishing. More fishing vessels, combined with catch volatility owing to natural changes in squid populations and phenomena such as El Nino, has “put production and business management under large pressure," it said. Last year, largely thanks to El Nino, which severely impacted squid populations, CNFC caught 1,141 metric tons of squid, 90% less than in 2015. It is known that more Chinese fishing vessels are operating off the coast of South America  -- vessels can be tracked using automatic identification system (AIS) transponders. But the figures come from a Chinese company amid a background of accusations that Chinese vessels cross from international waters into territorial waters of South American countries to fish; vessels are known to turn off their AIS transponders and cross boundaries at night. Last week, Argentina urged China to clamp down on illegal fishing in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) during Argentina president Mauricio Macri's state visit to China, according to Argentina’s ministry of fisheries. The state visit started on May 15 and included an official tour of Japan. Present during the state visit was secretary of fisheries and aquaculture, Tomas Gerpe. During the Conxemar trade show last October, Gerpe said “most of the [illegal, unreported and unregulated] fishing cases we see involve Chinese vessels." Argentina’s ministry of fisheries declined to go into detail when pressed by Undercurrent News about the nature of the discussion on IUU, apart from confirming that the topic was discussed. China's government appears to have taken the issue more seriously -- IUU cases involving Chinese vessels have recently fallen, Greenpeace policy analyst Robert Shuo told Undercurrent. However, an industry source in Peru, who did not wish to be quoted by name, told Undercurrent, “There are some companies that don’t care about governments, they just do what they want to do to get higher profits." With average catch so low, crossing over into more abundant territorial waters presents an opportunity some may find hard to resist. According to Huacai Zhaoyu, an online trading platform, last year Chinese vessels operating near Argentine waters caught an average of 91t of squid during the month of March, the seasonal peak. By comparison, Argentine vessels fishing within the EEZ caught an average of 226t during the same period, said Huacai.


News Article | June 20, 2017
Site: www.theguardian.com

My face is pressed up against the window and my brow is furrowed. For someone about to land in the Bahamas I look surprisingly troubled. I am trying to figure out the size of the swell and the prevailing wind direction from 10,000ft up in the air. For the last week I have been obsessively refreshing the forecast page for Cat Island, hoping that a small weather window will appear. I’m here to dive with the oceanic whitetip shark – Carcharhinus longimanus, the migratory circumtropical pelagic apex predator. Historically, the oceanic was a highly abundant species, but more recently it has undergone severe population declines. Globally across its range, it is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list as vulnerable, and critically endangered in the north-west and western central Atlantic. This reduction in numbers is a result of fishing pressures, most likely related to the global shark fin trade, for which it is targeted and highly prized due to its large pectoral fins, from which the shark gets its name: “longimanus”, meaning “long hands”. In fiction the oceanic has been immortalised as the shark species most likely to be the one described in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Indeed, in fishing tournaments held today, the oceanics are the first to turn up looking for the opportunity of an easy meal from a game fish caught on the line. Historically this species is thought to be responsible for causing the most human fatalities. They have been documented as the species which predate on people adrift in the open ocean after shipwrecks or air crashes. Probably the most well-known incident followed the torpedoing of the USS Indianapolis in 1945, when oceanics were thought to be responsible for the deaths of up to 800 sailors. However, it has since been suggested that most sailors died of exposure and the sharks predated on their bodies. Either way, this is characteristic behaviour of an opportunistic open ocean predator. More recently oceanics have become a huge attraction for divers, particularly in the Bahamas; the shark population here is well known for its bold, unhesitant approach, and is the reason I am here. Despite being critically endangered in the north-west Atlantic, the oceanics that come to the waters around Cat Island from April through May each year are highly site-specific. That means it’s not the sharks that you have to worry about but the weather! For most experienced divers the wind speed and subsequent swell is not too much of a problem, but due to the nature of the dive – an open ocean drift – too large a swell and the boat crew cannot see you at the surface. I have been exceptionally lucky in the past on shark diving trips, and was hoping my luck wouldn’t run out now. That evening I chatted to the owners of Epic Diving, who told stories about the oceanics and their endearing counterparts, the pilot fish Naucrates ductor, which left me praying to Poseidon for calm seas as I fell asleep that night. The wind and swell did not drop, but neither did it increase, and I could hardly believe my luck when we left the dock that morning. Almost immediately we spotted a tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, cruising the shallows, and it was all I could do to not ask if everyone would mind if we stopped the boat so I could jump in quickly to take a couple of shots. But with the weather supposed to change by the afternoon I knew I had to stick to my target species. Upon reaching the dive site the crew placed a couple of dead snapper in a closed plastic crate, and attached a rope with a buoy tied on so the crate would hang at a depth of about 10 metres. The crate was placed in the water and the rope tied temporarily to the stern as we idled along in water just shy of 1000m deep. After around 20 minutes, three oceanics turned up and it was time to kit up and get in. I was like a coiled spring: I’d heard so much about the oceanics’ behaviour: how bold they were, how close they approached, how you should assert dominance; would they prove too much for me? In less than a minute a large female came on the approach. I fired off a few shots and then observed her behaviour to get an idea of what I could expect: head on approach, close but not uncomfortably so; she turned before I felt the need to react. During the course of the day’s diving this first female was a good example of most of the sharks. At any one time 12 oceanics were visible, as well as a very bold silky shark, Carcharhinus falciformis. Some were more timid and turned away after reaching a proximity of about two metres, others didn’t turn until they were less than a camera’s depth away, but not once did they make contact with me or my camera housing. These constant close passes allowed me to have a really good look at these sharks, something which is not possible with many other species. Given the fact that I was about 15 metres or so up-current from the bait crate I had the distinct feeling they were purely checking me out - and not because I smelled like fresh snapper. They were clearly looking at me, and maintained eye contact as they swam past. Intriguingly, as we drifted over a seamount that had risen up from the depths to provide a bank at around 13 metres or so, the oceanics turned and swam against the current away from this shallow reef, appearing not to want to go over it. Even though they weren’t actively utilising the available water depth, it was as if they at least preferred having the option to do so. Despite growing conservation concerns, very little was known about the movements and habitat usage of oceanic whitetips in the Atlantic until 2013, when a study was published using data collected by pop-up satellite archival tags (PSATs) attached to 11 mature oceanics near Cat Island. The sharks stayed within 500 km of the tagging site for an average of 30 days before dispersing across 16,422 sqkm of the north-west Atlantic. The sharks spent 99.7% of their time in water depths of less than 200 metres. This is significant because while sharks are resident within the Bahamas exclusive economic zone (EEZ) they are protected from targeted fishing – the commercial trading and longlining of sharks within these waters is illegal. This study highlighted the fact that when oceanics leave these protected between June and October, they become most vulnerable to fishing gear deployed from 0-125 metre depths. The reasons behind why oceanics return to the Bahamas, and in particular show high site fidelity to the waters around Cat Island, was investigated in a study in 2015. This showed that gatherings consisted of adult individuals, that females were more common and more than half were pregnant. Dietary analysis showed that the oceanics were predating on more large pelagic teleosts (72%) than in the sharks’ long-term diets (47%). This suggests that the availability of these large prey is something that keeps bringing the oceanics back to Cat Island. It was this level of site fidelity which drew me to the Bahamas in search of this once-abundant top predator, and I’m not the only one. A study in early 2017 established that the Bahamas dive industry is the largest in the world, contributing approximately US$113.8m annually to the Bahamian economy. Elasmobranch tourism generated 99% of the total revenue, and the balance came from film, television and research. The Bahamas is a unique refuge for sharks in the Caribbean, largely due to a ban on longlining in the early 1990’s, followed by the establishment of the Bahamian shark sanctuary in 2011. As I walked along the shoreline at Cat Island the following day, I thought about how the stewardship shown by the Bahamian government ensured that their waters remained a carefully managed habitat for many shark species, and how there is also a real need for regional Caribbean-wide commitment to the management of highly migratory species. Of course with current estimates indicating that approximately 24% of all chondrichthyan species are threatened with some risk of extinction , this undoubtedly needs implementing on a global scale. Howey-Jordan, L.A., Brooks, E.J., Abercrombie, D.L., Jordan, L.K., Brooks, A., Williams, S., Gospodarczyk, E. and Chapman, D.D., 2013. Complex movements, philopatry and expanded depth range of a severely threatened pelagic shark, the oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus) in the western North Atlantic. PLoS One, 8(2). Madigan, D.J., Brooks, E.J., Bond, M.E., Gelsleichter, J., Howey, L.A., Abercrombie, D.L., Brooks, A. and Chapman, D.D, 2015. Diet shift and site-fidelity of oceanic whitetip sharks Carcharhinus longimanus along the Great Bahama Bank. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 529, 185-197. Haas, A.R., Fedler, T. and Brooks, E.J., 2017. The contemporary economic value of elasmobranchs in The Bahamas: Reaping the rewards of 25 years of stewardship and conservation. Biological Conservation, 207, 55-63. Dulvy, N.K., Fowler, S.L., Musick, J.A., Cavanagh, R.D., Kyne, P.M., Harrison, L.R., Carlson, J.K., Davidson, L.N., Fordham, S.V., Francis, M.P. and Pollock, C.M., 2014. Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays. Elife.


News Article | June 23, 2017
Site: www.businesswire.com

LYMINGTON, United Kingdom--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC) has issued its much-awaited Recommendation No. 17 titled: Submarine Cable Operations in Deep Seabed Mining Concessions Designated by the International Seabed Authority. The Recommendation* is now publicly available upon request via: secretary@iscpc.org. The laying of submarine cables and deep sea mining are both legitimate uses of the seabed, as governed by international law. To allow these two activities to operate in harmony, the ICPC provides best industry practice to facilitate a good working relationship between cable owners, mining contractors and other seabed users. ICPC Recommendation No. 17 provides procedures for due diligence in the laying and repair of submarine cables in concessions designated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for the exploration and/or exploitation of mineral resources in the “Area”. These procedures include practical means for concerned parties to notify one another of their activities, and to minimise any potential conflict through effective consultation. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the ISA has plenary authority to designate and regulate concessions for deep seabed mining in the Area. A mining contractor has been awarded a concession by the ISA and has the exclusive rights to explore and exploit mineral resources in the concession. The Area is defined in UNCLOS as the seabed of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) (i.e. outside of the coastal State’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or extended continental shelf claim). UNCLOS also provides for the freedom to lay and maintain submarine cables on the high seas which includes the water column over the Area. This freedom includes the operations incident to the laying of submarine cables such as cable route surveys and repair. The purpose of this ICPC Recommendation is to promote best industry practice with respect to exercising due regard and facilitate a good working relationship with the ISA, mining contractors and other seabed users in the Area. In exercising the freedom to lay and maintain submarine cables on the high seas, UNCLOS provides that these freedoms shall be exercised with due regard for the interest of others in their exercise of the freedom of the high seas as well as with due regard for the rights under UNCLOS with respect to activities in the Area. UNCLOS requires that mining activities in the Area be exercised with reasonable regard for other activities and the marine environment. “Due diligence” and “reasonable diligence” are terms of art that are not defined in UNCLOS. According to ISA Technical Study No. 14, these diligence terms are understood to have two components: the first is to notice the activities involved, and the second is meaningful consultation by the activities involved with a view to minimizing conflict. ICPC’s Recommendation No. 17 provides important guidance to avoid conflicts between submarine cables and deep seabed mining operations. As it has done with many other seabed users such as fishing, shipping, renewable energy, and oil and gas, the cable community through ICPC recommendations and UNCLOS has demonstrated that conflict avoidance is best accomplished by direct coordination and consultation between all seabed users involved. The notion that international regulation is required is simply not accurate as evidenced by this practical recommendation. *An ICPC Recommendation is a consensus of those in the submarine cable community and in some cases others substantially concerned with its scope and provisions. A Recommendation is intended as a guide about best practices to aid cable owners and other seabed users in promoting the highest goals of reliability and safety in the submarine cable environment. About the ICPC: The International Cable Protection Committee was formed in 1958 and its primary goal is to promote the safeguarding of international submarine cables against man-made and natural hazards. The organisation provides a forum for the exchange of technical, legal and environmental information about submarine cables and, with more than 160 members from over 60 nations, including cable operators, owners, manufacturers, industry service providers, as well as governments, it is the World’s premier submarine cable organisation. For further information about ICPC visit: http://www.iscpc.org or send an e-mail to: secretary@iscpc.org.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: www.theenergycollective.com

The brewing conflict around the South China Sea, with its large oil and gas resources, could easily turn into a catastrophic war between the US and China, writes Rajan Menon, international relations specialist at City College New York and Columbia University. Menon explains what is behind the territorial claims on the South China Sea and why it will be extremely risky for the US to try to confront China there. Courtesy of TomDispatch. Forget those “bad hombres down there” in Mexico that U.S. troops might take out. Ignore the way National Security Adviser Michael Flynn put Iran “on notice” and the new president insisted, that, when it comes to that country, “nothing is off the table.” Instead, focus for a moment on something truly scary: the possibility that Donald Trump’s Washington might slide into an actual war with the planet’s rising superpower, China. No kidding. It could really happen. Let’s start with silver-maned, stately Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state. Who could deny that the former ExxonMobil CEO has a foreign minister’s bearing? Trump reportedly chose him over neocon firebrand John Bolton partly for that reason. (Among other things, Bolton was mustachioed, something the new president apparently doesn’t care for.) But an august persona can only do so much; it can’t offset a lack of professional diplomatic experience. That became all-too-apparent during Tillerson’s January 11th confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was asked for his view on the military infrastructure China has been creating on various islands in the South China Sea, the ownership of which other Asian countries, including Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei claim as well. China’s actions, he replied, were “extremely worrisome,” likening them to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, an infraction for which Russia was slapped with economic sanctions. The then-secretary-of-state-designate – he’s since been confirmed, despite many negative votes – didn’t, however, stop there. Evidently, he wanted to communicate to the Chinese leadership in Beijing that the new administration was already irked beyond measure with them. So he added, “We’re going to have to send China’s leaders a clear signal: that, first, the island building stops and, second, your access to those islands is not going to be allowed.” Functionally, that fell little short of being an announcement of a future act of war, since not allowing “access” to those islands would clearly involve military moves. In what amounted to a there’s-a-new-sheriff-in-town warning, he then doubled down yet again, insisting, slightly incoherently (in the tradition of his new boss) that “the failure of a response has allowed them to just keep pushing the envelope on this.” All right, so maybe a novice had a bad day. Maybe the secretary-of-state-to-be simply ad-libbed and misspoke… whatever. If so, you might have expected a later clarification from him or from someone on the Trump national security team anyway. That didn’t happen; instead, that team stuck to its guns. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made no effort to add nuance to, let alone walk back, Tillerson’s remarks. During his first official press briefing on January 23rd, Spicer declared that the United States “is going to make sure we defend our interests there” – in the South China Sea, that is – and that “if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yes, we are going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country.” And what of Trump’s own views on the island controversy? Never one to pass up an opportunity for hyperbole, during the presidential campaign he swore that, on those tiny islands, China was building “a military fortress the likes of which the world has not seen.” As it happened, he wasn’t speaking about, say, the forces that Hitler massed for the ill-fated Operation Barbarossa, launched in June 1941 with the aim of crushing the Red Army and the Soviet Union, or those deployed for the June 1944 Normandy landing, which sealed Nazi Germany’s fate. When applied to what China has been up to in the South China Sea, his statement fell instantly into the not-yet-named category of “alternative facts.” Candidate Trump also let it be known that he wouldn’t allow Beijing to get away with such cheekiness on his watch. Why had the Chinese engaged in military construction on the islands? Trump had a simple answer (as he invariably does): China “has no respect for our president and no respect for our country.” The implication was evident. Things would be different once he settled into the White House and made America great again. Then – it was easy enough to conclude – China had better watch out. Standard campaign bombast? Well, Trump hasn’t changed his tune a bit since being elected. On December 4th, using (of course!) his Twitter account, he blasted Beijing for having built “a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea.” And it’s safe to assume that he signed off on Spicer’s combative comments as well. In short, his administration has already drawn a red line – but in the way a petulant child might with a crayon. During and after the campaign he made much of his determination to regain the respect he claims the U.S. has lost in the world, notably from adversaries like China. The danger here is that, in dealing with that country, Trump could, as is typical, make it all about himself, all about “winning,” one of his most beloved words, and disaster might follow. A military clash between Trump-led America and a China led by President Xi Jinping? Understanding how it might happen requires a brief detour to the place where it’s most likely to occur: the South China Sea. Our first task: to understand China’s position on that body of water and the islands it contains, as well as the nature of Beijing’s military projects there. So brace yourself for some necessary detail. As Marina Tsirbas, a former diplomat now at the Australian National University’s National Security College, explains, Beijing’s written and verbal statements on the South China Sea lend themselves to two different interpretations. The Chinese government’s position boils down to something like this: “We own everything – the waters, islands and reefs, marine resources, and energy and mineral deposits – within the Nine-Dash Line.” That demarcation line, which incidentally has had ten dashes, and sometimes eleven, originally appeared in 1947 maps of the Republic of China, the Nationalist government that would soon flee to the island of Taiwan leaving the Chinese Communists in charge of the mainland. When Mao Ze Dong and his associates established the People’s Republic, they retained that Nationalist map and the demarcation line that went with it, which just happened to enclose virtually all of the South China Sea, claiming sovereign rights. This stance – think of it as Beijing’s hard line on the subject – raises instant questions about other countries’ navigation and overflight rights through that much-used region. In essence, do they have any and, if so, will Beijing alone be the one to define what those are? And will those definitions start to change as China becomes ever more powerful? These are hardly trivial concerns, given that about $5 trillion worth of goods pass through the South China Sea annually. Then there’s what might be called Beijing’s softer line, based on rights accorded by the legal concepts of the territorial sea and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which took effect in 1994 and has been signed by 167 states (including China but not the United States), a country has sovereign control within 12 nautical miles of its coast as well as of land formations in that perimeter visible at high tide. But other countries have the right of “innocent passage.” The EEZ goes further. It provides a rightful claimant control over access to fishing, as well as seabed and subsoil natural resources, within “an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea” extending 200 nautical miles, while ensuring other states’ freedom of passage by air and sea. UNCLOS also gives a state with an EEZ control over “the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations, and structures” within that zone – an important provision at our present moment. What makes all of this so much more complicated is that many of the islands and reefs in the South China Sea that provide the basis for defining China’s EEZ are also claimed by other countries under the terms of UNCLOS. That, of course, immediately raises questions about the legality of Beijing’s military construction projects in that watery expanse on islands, atolls, and strips of land it’s dredging into existence, as well as its claims to seabed energy resources, fishing rights, and land reclamation rights there – to say nothing about its willingness to seize some of them by force, rival claims be damned. Moreover, figuring out which of these two positions – hard or soft – China embraces at any moment is tricky indeed. Beijing, for instance, insists that it upholds freedom of navigation and overflight rights in the Sea, but it has also said that these rights don’t apply to warships and military aircraft. In recent years its warplanes have intercepted, and at close quarters, American military aircraft flying outside Chinese territorial waters in the same region. Similarly, in 2015, Chinese aircraft and ships followed and issued warnings to an American warship off Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands, which both China and Vietnam claim in their entirety. This past December, its Navy seized, but later returned, an underwater drone the American naval ship Bowditch had been operating near the coast of the Philippines. There were similar incidents in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2013, and 2014. In the second of these episodes, a Chinese fighter jet collided with a US Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane, which had a crew of 24 on board, less than 70 miles off Hainan island, forcing it to make an emergency landing in China and creating a tense standoff between Beijing and Washington. The Chinese detained the crew for 11 days. They disassembled the EP-3, returning it three months later in pieces. Such muscle flexing in the South China Sea isn’t new. China has long been tough on its weaker neighbors in those waters. Back in 1974, for instance, its forces ejected South Vietnamese troops from parts of the Paracel/Xisha islands that Beijing claimed but did not yet control. China has also backed up its claim to the Spratly/Nansha islands (which Taiwan, Vietnam, and other regional countries reject) with air and naval patrols, tough talk, and more. In 1988, it forcibly occupied the Vietnamese-controlled Johnson Reef, securing control over the first of what would eventually become seven possessions in the Spratlys. Vietnam has not been the only Southeast Asian country to receive such rough treatment. China and the Philippines both claim ownership of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal/Huangyang Island, located 124 nautical miles off Luzon Island in the Philippines. In 2012, Beijing simply seized it, having already ejected Manila from Panganiban Reef (aka Mischief Reef), about 129 nautical miles from the Philippines’ Palawan Island, in 1995. In 2016, when an international arbitration tribunal upheld Manila’s position on Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal, the Chinese Foreign Ministry sniffed that “the decision is invalid and has no binding force.” Chinese president Xi Jinping added for good measure that China’s claims to the South China Sea stretched back to “ancient times.” Then there’s China’s military construction work in the area, which includes the building of full-scale artificial islands, as well as harbors, military airfields, storage facilities, and hangars reinforced to protect military aircraft. In addition, the Chinese have installed radar systems, anti-aircraft missiles, and anti-missile defense systems on some of these islands. These, then, are the projects that the Trump administration says it will stop. But China’s conduct in the South China Sea leaves little doubt about its determination to hold onto what it has and continue its activities. The Chinese leadership has made this clear since Donald Trump’s election, and the state-run press has struck a similarly defiant note, drawing crude red lines of its own. For example, the Global Times, a nationalist newspaper, mocked Trump’s pretensions and issued a doomsday warning: “The U.S. has no absolute power to dominate the South China Sea. Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.” Were the administration to follow its threatening talk with military action, the Global Times added ominously, “The two sides had better prepare for a military clash.” Although the Chinese leadership hasn’t been anywhere near as bombastic, top officials have made it clear that they won’t yield an inch on the South China Sea, that disputes over territories are matters for China and its neighbors to settle, and that Washington had best butt out. True, as the acolytes of a “unipolar” world remind us, China’s military spending amounts to barely more than a quarter of Washington’s and U.S. naval and air forces are far more advanced and lethal than their Chinese equivalents. However, although there certainly is a debate about the legal validity and historical accuracy of China’s territorial claims, given the increasingly acrimonious relationship between Washington and Beijing the more strategically salient point may be that these territories, thousands of miles from the U.S. mainland, mean so much more to China than they do to the United States. By now, they are inextricably bound up with its national identity and pride, and with powerful historical and nationalistic memories – with, that is, a sense that, after nearly two centuries of humiliation at the hands of the West, China is now a rising global power that can no longer be pushed around. Behind such sentiments lies steel. By buying some $30 billion in advanced Russian armaments since the early 1990s and developing the capacity to build advanced weaponry of its own, China has methodically acquired the military means, and devised a strategy, to inflict serious losses on the American navy in any clash in the South China Sea, where geography serves as its ally. Beijing may, in the end, lose a showdown there, but rest assured that it would exact a heavy price before that. What sort of “victory” would that be? If the fighting starts, it will be tough for the presidents of either country to back down. Xi Jinping, like Trump, presents himself as a tough guy, sure to trounce his enemies at home and abroad. Retaining that image requires that he not bend when it comes to defending China’s land and honor. He faces another problem as well. Nationalism long ago sidelined Maoism in his country. As a result, were he and his colleagues to appear pusillanimous in the face of a Trumpian challenge, they would risk losing their legitimacy and potentially bringing their people onto the streets (something that can happen quickly in the age of social media). That’s a particularly forbidding thought in what is arguably the most rebellious land in the historical record. In such circumstances, the leadership’s abiding conviction that it can calibrate the public’s nationalism to serve the Communist Party’s purposes without letting it get out of hand may prove delusional. Certainly, the Party understands the danger that runaway nationalism could pose to its authority. Its paper, the People’s Daily, condemned the “irrational patriotism” that manifested itself in social media forums and street protests after the recent international tribunal’s verdict favoring the Philippines. And that’s hardly the first time a foreign policy fracas has excited public passions. Think, for example, of the anti-Japanese demonstrations that swept the country in 2005, provoked by Japanese school textbooks that sanitized that country’s World War II-era atrocities in China. Those protests spread to many cities, and the numbers were sizeable with more than 10,000 angry demonstrators on the streets of Shanghai alone. At first, the leadership encouraged the rallies, but it got nervous as things started to spin out of control. Facing off against China, President Trump could find himself in a similar predicament, having so emphasized his toughness, his determination to regain America’s lost respect and make the country great again. The bigger problem, however, will undoubtedly be his own narcissism and his obsession with winning, not to mention his inability to resist sending incendiary messages via Twitter. Just try to imagine for a moment how a president who blows his stack during a getting-to-know-you phone call with the prime minister of Australia, a close ally, is likely to conduct himself in a confrontation with a country he’s labeled a prime adversary. In the event of a military crisis between China and the United States, neither side may want an escalation, to say nothing of a nuclear war. Yet Trump’s threats to impose 45% tariffs on Chinese exports to the U.S. and his repeated condemnation of China as a “currency manipulator” and stealer of American jobs have already produced a poisonous atmosphere between the world’s two most powerful countries. And it was made worse by his December phone conversation with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, which created doubts about his commitment to the One China policy the United States has adhered to since 1972. The Chinese authorities apparently made it clear to the White House that there couldn’t even be a first-time phone call to Xi unless the new president agreed to stick with that policy. During a conversation with the Chinese president on February 9th, Trump reportedly provided that essential assurance. Given the new American president’s volatility, however, Beijing will be playing close attention to his words and actions, even his symbolic ones, related to Taiwan. Sooner or later, if Trump doesn’t also dial down the rest of his rhetoric on China, its leaders will surely ratchet up theirs, thereby aggravating the situation further. So far, they’ve restrained themselves in order to figure Trump out – not an easy task even for Americans – and in hopes that his present way of dealing with the world might be replaced with something more conventional and recognizable. Hope, as they say, springs eternal, but as of now, in repeatedly insisting that China must do as he says, Trump and his surrogates have inserted themselves and the country into a complicated territorial dispute far from America’s shores. The hubris of Washington acting as the keeper of world order, but regularly breaking the rules as it wishes, whether by invading Iraq in 2003 or making open use of torture and a global network of secret prisons, is an aspect of American behavior long obvious to foreign powers. It looks to be the essence of Trumpism, too, even if its roots are old indeed. Don’t dismiss the importance of heated exchanges between Washington and Beijing in the wake of Trump’s election. The political atmosphere between rival powers, especially those with massive arsenals, can matter a great deal when they face off in a crisis. Pernicious stereotypes and mutual mistrust only increase the odds that crucial information will be misinterpreted in the heat of the moment because of entrenched beliefs that are immune to contrary evidence, misperceptions, worst-case calculations, and up-the-ante reactions. In academic jargon, these constitute the ingredients for a classic conflict spiral. In such a situation, events take control of leaders, producing outcomes that none of them sought. Not for nothing during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 did President John Kennedy look to Barbara Tuchman’s book, Guns of August – a gripping account of how Europe slipped and slid into a disastrous world war in 1914. There has been lots of anxiety about the malign effects that Donald Trump’s temperament and beliefs could have domestically, and for good reason. But in domestic politics, institutions and laws, civic organizations, the press, and public protests can serve, however imperfectly, as countervailing forces. In international politics, crises can erupt suddenly and unfold rapidly – and the checks on rash behavior by American presidents are much weaker. They have considerable leeway to use military force (having repeatedly circumvented the War Powers Act). They can manipulate public opinion from the Bully Pulpit and shape the flow of information. (Think back to the Iraq war.) Congress typically rallies reflexively around the flag during international crises. In such moments, citizens’ criticism or mass protest invites charges of disloyalty. This is why the brewing conflict in the South China Sea and rising animosities on both sides could produce something resembling a Cuban-Missile-Crisis-style situation – with the United States lacking the geographical advantage this time around. If you think that a war between China and the United States couldn’t possibly happen, you might have a point in ordinary times, which these distinctly aren’t. Take the latest news on Stephen Bannon, formerly the executive chairman of the alt-right publication Breitbart News and now President Trump’s chief political strategist. He has even been granted the right to sit in on every meeting of the National Security Council and its Principals Committee, the highest inter-agency forum for day-to-day national security deliberations. He will be privy to meetings that, according to a directive signed by Trump, even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence may not join unless “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise will be discussed.” Calling this a break with past practice would be an understatement of the first order. So Bannon’s views, once of interest only to a fringe group of Americans, now matter greatly. Here’s what he said last March about China in a radio interview: “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. They come here to the United States in front of our face – and you understand how important face is – and say it’s an ancient territorial sea.” Think of this as Bannon’s version of apocalyptic prophecy. Then consider the volatility of the new president he advises. Then focus on the larger message: these are not ordinary times. Most Americans probably don’t even know that there is a South China Sea. Count on one thing, though: they will soon. Rajan Menon is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of International Relations at the Powell School, City College of New York, and Senior Research Fellow at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. He is the author, most recently, of The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention. This article was first published on TomDispatch.com and is republished here with permission. Copyright 2017 Rajan Menon.

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