Land grabs in Myanmar

In rural northern Myanmar, land is everything.

From the villagers who ply the fields, to the nation’s vast military, every inch of soil has its purpose for someone – a means to feed a family, make a fortune or weaken an enemy.

Yet in Kachin, there is little balance between the meagre and the mighty.

Over decades of civil conflict and military rule, the rights of farmers have withered away. Land grabbing was, and remains, rife and the state government’s Ministry of Agriculture has admitted it is nearly powerless to solve many of the resulting disputes.

Chinese-backed plantations for rubber and bananas are well established across the landscape near Naung Chain. That has not resulted in any influx of local jobs, however.

Most of the workers have migrated here from other states; locals say the hours are long, the pay is low and they prefer not to be tied to labouring for Chinese bosses.

In fact, Chinese land acquisition and control is a point of concern for not just farmers, but the state government as well. There are no exact figures for how much farmland is currently being used by Chinese businesses, but it is estimated by observer groups to be thousands of acres, where mainland workers are hired and produce is sent across the border to be sold.

Land grabs aren’t new, see the post on land grabs in Zimbabwe in an earlier post. Similar in both cases, local farmers suffer:

“At that time, we just did hillside cultivation. We grew plants like rice, yams and sesame,” the 64-year-old said in her home in the dusty village.

But the land her family tended sat adjacent to an emerging rubber plantation and six years ago, she said, it was confiscated and sold to a tycoon businessman by a corrupt local administrator. She received no compensation and it is now being rented to a Chinese company.

“We only do farming so we didn’t have any income. We had a lack of food supplies. We had to rent cows and buffaloes because we didn’t own any. We struggled a lot,” she said.

Source: Channelnewsasia

Multinational corporations vs local farmers

When we think of MNCs, we think of richer, developed countries exploiting the poorer, less developed countries.

This may no longer be the case as MNCs from developed countries are under the scrutiny of the media and their respective governments while MNCs from emerging economies like China, South Africa and Russia may not face the same pressure from their government and the public to ensure human rights are protected in the countries they invest projects in. Sometimes, the governments themselves work with the MNCs at the expense of the needs of their own people.

When you think of the worst abuses in poor countries — land grabs, sweatshops, cash-filled envelopes passed to politicians — you probably think they’re committed by companies based in rich ones: Nike in Indonesia, Shell in Nigeria, Dow in Bhopal, India.

These are the cases you’re most likely to hear about, but they are no longer representative of how these abuses actually take place — or who commits them.These days, the worst multinational corporations have names you’ve never heard. They come from places like China and South Africa and Russia. The countries where they are headquartered are unable to regulate them, and the countries where they operate are unwilling to.

Read the Foreign Policy article to find out more about how land grabs from a Zimbabwean MNC, Green Fuel, has affected the lives of local farmers. This is just one case of many.

Source: foreignpolicy.com

Why the South China Sea matters – Part 2 of the South China Sea dispute

A continuation from the Spratly Islands dispute post

Screen Shot 2016-09-24 at 9.57.16 PM.png

Nat Geo Reporter Rachel Bale reports her investigation into giant clam poachers on reefs in the South China Sea, like those on the Spratly Islands, in the video below:

In 2012 Philippine authorities found a Chinese fishing boat loaded with corals, live sharks, and giant clam shells at Scarborough Shoal, some 138 miles (220 kilometers) from the Philippine coast.

The government contacted Gomez with a question. Why in the world would the Chinese have so many giant clam shells? Gomez didn’t know, but he soon found out. A friend gave him a tip, advising him to visit the port town of Tanmen, on the island of Hainan.

When he got there, he was flabbergasted: “Rows and rows of shops selling nothing but giant clam carvings, giant clam shells, and corals,” he says. “There must have been, I would guess, a mile and a half of stores.”

It turned out that the giant clam handicraft market in China had exploded, and the South China Sea was its epicenter.

By the late 1990s Hainan fishermen had overfished their coastal waters. Their catches were getting smaller, and they were looking for ways to supplement their income, says Zhang Hongzhou, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

The government helped them out with a special fuel subsidy to travel more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) south to the Spratly Islands, as well as subsidies for bigger and better boats.

Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/wildlife-giant-clam-poaching-south-china-sea-destruction/

Typhoon Meranti – Super Typhoon

Despite the strengh of the typhoon and it being dubbed a ‘super typhoon’, described as one of the strongest in 2016, death toll was fortunately keep low, probably due to effective mitigation measures in place by countries in its path.

BEIJING: The death toll from the strongest typhoon to hit China in nearly 70 years has reached 28, state news said Sunday, days after the storm crashed into the country’s coastline.

Heavy rains and winds up to 170 kilometres per hour (105 miles per hour) whipped eastern Fujian province late last week, flooding streets and knocking over trees, billboards and power lines.

The official Xinhua news agency described the storm as the world’s strongest typhoon this year and the worst to hit the region since records began in 1949.

Fifteen remain missing, Xinhua said, adding that Xiamen city’s transportation and power supply continued to be “spotty”.

Source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/typhoon-meranti-death-toll-rises-to-28-reports/3136660.html

Singapore has ratified Paris Climate Agreement

The Republic on Wednesday (Sep 21) formalised its pledge to fight climate change, with Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan depositing Singapore’s instrument of ratification of the Paris Agreement at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York.

The Paris accord, sealed late last year in the French capital, commits countries to make plans to keep global warming at no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels to try to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Dr Balakrishnan signed the Paris Agreement on Apr 22 together with representatives of 174 other countries. According to a joint media statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) on Wednesday, the ratification is a “further affirmation of our support and commitment for climate action”.

By ratifying the agreement, Singapore formalises its pledge to reduce its emission intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 and stabilise emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030. MFA said this “pledge builds on our existing commitment to reduce, by 2020, greenhouse gas emissions by 16 per cent from the business-as-usual level, which Singapore is on track to meet”.

In July, Singapore released its Climate Action Plan, outlining the various measures to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and enhance resilience to climate change.

Source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-ratifies-paris-climate-agreement-at-un/3145320.html

What are our main actions to meet the pledge?

The Climate Action Plan says this:

Screen Shot 2016-09-24 at 8.39.43 PM.png

Source: https://www.nccs.gov.sg/sites/nccs/files/NCCS_Mitigation_FA_webview%2027-06-16.pdf

What about Copenhagen Accord and the Kyoto Protocol?

Simply put, all these international agreements are similar. The Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the Copenhagen Accord (2009) are older agreements for the same purpose of fighting climate change.

However, the most recent Paris Climate Agreement is one that is seen very positively especially in light of the progress in negotiations in Dec 2015.

This Paris agreement is also hailed as a success, with the world’s biggests carbon emitters, USA and China, (finally) ratifying the accord as well – something that was not done in previous agreements.

What does ratification mean? Wasn’t the agreement made in Paris in Dec 2015 already?

The meetings in Paris only had representatives from the various nations coming in to discuss and come to a consensus as to what needs to be done. At the end of the meetings, representatives, upon coming to an agreement, will sign the accord. However, at this point of time, countries do not yet pledge to take action to meet the demands of the accord.

The next few months will see the representatives work with their respective governments to consider steps the country can and will take to meet the needs. Once the government agrees, they then ratify the agreement.

For the Kyoto Protocol, though USA signed the agreement, they did not ratify it.

Spratly Islands Dispute – Death of the corals

The Spratly Islands are one of many islands found in the South China Sea that are part of the regional territorial dispute between nearby countries like China, Vietnam, Philippines.

All claim to have claim to various islands within the South China Sea, the largest claim being China’s ‘nine-dash line’:

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Other claims include:

Up to 5 countries are claiming parts or all of the Spratly Islands – China, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Why are the Islands important?

In terms of national security, these islands are important due to their location in the South China Sea, where many merchant ships pass through to deliver  goods, people, and energy products to Asian-Pacific countries. By controlling these islands, the country in question would be able to ensure the safe passage of their goods.

In terms of energy security, the Spratly Islands are considered indispensable to countries in the region due to the potential sources of natural gas and oil found under the islands’ seabed. Whichever country wins the dispute would have the right to explore and develop these resources for their own domestic consumption. This would help in diversifying a country’s energy portfolio while making them less vulnerable to foreign oil and gas markets. At this time, however, the amount of recoverable oil and gas that these islands contain have not been fully proven.

Beyond this, whichever country gets control of the islands will also have control over activities within the area – including fishing. Economically, the fishing industries of countries in the region can be very severely affected.

Source: http://energyinasiablog.com/2011/10/the-spratly-islands-dispute-defining-sea-lane-security/

Environmental impact so far?

China has been very active within the disputed islands and in recent years have constructed artificial islands within the disputed zones.

Satellite imagery from 30 March, 7 August 2014 and 30 January 2015 shows the extent of Chinese progress in building an island at Gaven Reefs in the Spratly Islands.
Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/28/asia/china-south-china-sea-disputes-explainer/

With the building of such islands on what used to be reefs, comes massive damage to reef systems, as discovered by experts:

Marine biologist John McManus said Chinese poachers had been using the propellers on their boats to destroy coral reefs at disputed islands Spratyls and Pag-asa, referred to as Thitu in China.

According to data, coral bleaching and reef scarring are evidence of systematic crushing through repeated scratching or scraping by Chinese poachers to harvest giant clams.

McManus added that aside from discovering the poaching method, the data also links the destruction of the corals to China’s construction of artificial islands.

“They said their scientists went there. They looked around and they say ‘Oh, this is all dead coral.’ It was! It’s the truth—it had been killed by the Chinese fishers,” he said.

Source: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/582462/scitech/science/chinese-poachers-destroyed-coral-reefs-in-spratly-pag-asa-islands-us-biologist

It doesn’t look like we are anywhere close to any solution to the dispute, those most agree that any solution should only come with negotiations and not military action. Until that happens, it is doubtful the reefs will be left unscathed.