11/24/2014, 00.00
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South China Sea: Beijing builds a new island, with naval and air base

According to US sources, China is building a fourth island in the Spratly. Washington asks for a halt to the project and calls for "diplomatic initiatives" to release the tension. Philippine court sentences nine Chinese fishermen for poaching in its territorial waters. They risked up to 20 years in prison, but will have to pay a fine of 103 thousand dollars.

Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Beijing is building a new island - the fourth - on the reef (reef) of the Fiery Cross (Spratly Islands), to accommodate a landing strip for warplanes and a deep water port for the docking of warships.

This is according to US military sources and confirms the expansionist ambitions of the Beijing government in the South China Sea, the center of a fierce dispute with other nations in the region, including Vietnam and the Philippines. Washington has repeatedly asked Beijing to halt the project, hoping at the same time for "diplomatic initiatives" so that each "party" in the dispute "refrain" from promoting "this type of activity."

According to the magazine IHS Jane's Defence, China has created an island 3 thousand meters long and 300 m wide from nothing on the reef by dredging sand from the sea floor. In the last three months, from 8 August to 14 November, the structure has grown exponentially and is the fourth of these projects promoted by the Chinese. The other big islands were built on Johnson South Reef, the Cuarteron Reef and Gaven Reef.

Meanwhile, this morning a Philippine court sentenced nine Chinese fishermen for violating "poaching" laws and the "capture of protected species". The group were stopped last May with a huge amount (in the hundreds) of sea turtles, a protected species, aboard their boat. The judge ordered the payment of a fine of 103 thousand dollars a head, but did not impose prison sentences; they risked up to 20 years in prison.

Manila's coast guard surprised the Chinese fishing boat off the Half Moon Shoal, claimed by Beijing, 111 kilometers (only 60 nautical miles) from the coast of Palawan, the westernmost tip of the Philippine archipelago. The specimens that survived the capture were released in a bay of Palawan.

If they fail to pay the fine, the Chinese fishermen must serve a prison sentence of six months for each of the two counts for which were tried, for a total of one year in prison. For weeks, Beijing has been putting diplomatic pressure on Manila to return the fishermen and their boat, saying that the group was kidnapped in Chinese waters. Manila, however, says they were in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

n recent years, Vietnam and the Philippines - which has taken its case to a UN court - have shown growing concern over China's "imperialism" in the South and East China Seas. The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational".  Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage, in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it.  Almost uninhabited, the area's islands are thought to hold extensive oil and natural gas reserves as well as other raw materials. India, Australia and the United States are also parties to the dispute in various degrees. In view of the conflicting interests and alliances that crisscross the Asia-Pacific region, the area is one of the hottest geopolitical spots in the world, one that could even trigger a new global war.


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