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Asia Minute: UN Tribunal Ruling Against China Also Makes an Environmental Statement

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After a UN Court ruled against China Tuesday in a case involving the South China Sea, the immediate reaction focused on diplomatic and security issues. But a large part of the story also concerns the environment. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

The South China Sea dispute covers a lot of territory—and not just on a map.  Most attention zeroes in on diplomatic disputes, freedom of navigation, and exploration for oil and minerals.

Another critical area is the environment.  The UN tribunal found China “has caused severe harm to the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species.”  The court said construction of artificial islands in particular has “inflicted irreparable harm to the marine environment.”

A study out the same day as the court ruling underlines those findings.  A new analysis of satellite imagery shows at least 22 square miles of coral reef have been destroyed by China’s island building…while another 40 square miles have been destroyed by the illegal seizure of giant clams.

Poachers use boat propellers to loosen the clams—which can weigh up to 500 pounds—and fetch high prices in China.  Researchers presented their findings at a conference of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington…adding that about 10% of shallow reefs in the Spratly Islands and about 8% of the reefs off the Paracel Islands have now been damaged.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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