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China can be sued for choking Mekong

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - June 10, 2020 - 12:00am

China is blighting millions of Southeast Asians by choking the Mekong River. It can be sued before the United Nations. Reparations and sanctions can be extracted under international pacts. Beijing communist rulers’ global excesses amidst COVID-19 pandemic will isolate China.

Eleven dams on China’s side of the Mekong have dried up farms downstream in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. River diversion worsened the effects of drought since 2019. Water levels last March were at the lowest in six decades. Thai rice, fruit, vegetable and inland fisheries yields dropped by a third along Mekong distributaries. Cambodians’ main source of protein dwindled. Salination is ruining Vietnam’s Mekong Delta as seawater enters parched outflows.

Belittling scientific evidence, Beijing insists it’s all due to drought that has affected three Chinese provinces as well. It refuses to join the four neighbors’ Mekong River Commission (MRC). Doing so would oblige Beijing’s commissars to release Mekong waters, over which they claim exclusivity.

Beijing’s actions breach the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. Deeming that water is for all, the 1997 treaty requires member-states to share and protect surface and groundwater. Harm must be avoided by diversion dams, pollution, or input of alien fish species. Under Article 7 countries that cause damage must compensate those that share the watercourse.

Nations that buy food from the Mekong region are threatened too. Perennially short of rice, the Philippines imports two to three million tons each year from Vietnam and Thailand. Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and West Pacific islands get cheap staple, starch, coffee, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and fruits from mainland Southeast Asia.

As Beijing ignores Thailand’s complaints at the MRC, negotiations are turning futile. Vietnam reportedly is eyeing UN redress. A case can be filed at the International Court of Justice, lawyers say. Another venue is the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, where Manila won in 2016 against China’s incursions in and destruction of Philippine reefs. Resolutions can be tabled for voting at the UN General Assembly, as Nicaragua did against the United States’ mining of its territorial seas in the 1970s. (Geopolitics Prof. Guillermo H.A. Santos suggested the UN-GA course in newspaper columns years back.) Not only Mekong states but their allies and buyers too can join the case. India and Bangladesh are interested, as China is planning dams on its side of their common Brahmaputra River.

Less than half the 4,800-km long Mekong is in China. Its 11 dams divert as much as 11 million square miles of water, as huge as America’s Chesapeake Bay. When China tested equipment on just one of the 11 hydroelectric plants in January-March 60 million Southeast Asians ran out of potable and irrigation water. Obsessed with colossal engineering works, Beijing’s communists are to erect eight more dams across the Mekong. They are lending Laos to build seven others. Myanmar too is being egged to dam the Irrawaddy, as is Pakistan with its watercourses.

The Mekong springs from the Tibetan plateau, as do eight other mighty rivers to South and Southeast Asia, and China. With their 1950 conquest of Tibet, Beijing’s communists claim ownership of all those. Illegally they also assert sovereignty over the entire South China Sea. That violates ASEAN neighbors’ exclusive economic zones under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. China warships confront US, British, French, and Australian patrols that keep the high sea open to $5 trillion in annual global trade.

A year ago yesterday a Chinese fisheries militia steel-hulled vessel rammed a Filipino wooden boat at the Recto Bank inside Philippine EEZ. Twenty-two Filipino fishers were thrown overboard and left floating at sea in the night. The passage of a Vietnamese launch saved them. Beijing alibied that the waters, 800 miles from China, were its territory.    

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Gratitude to Mayor Joy Belmonte for distributing food and vitamin aid to persons with disability in Quezon City. As well, to other officials who care for the physically and mentally handicapped during this pandemic. May their tribe increase.

The blind, deaf, mute, crippled, and mentally impaired were neglected during the lockdowns. Confined indoors, they were treated as worthless burdens. It was as if they had no human needs to fulfill by themselves or with least assistance. Many had to forego medical checkup because barred along with aides from the roads.

Cruelty abounded. A policeman shot dead a battle-shocked soldier for “peskiness” at a checkpoint, as his family begged for mercy. Barangay watchmen mauled a mildly autistic man in his 20s for repeated fish-vending at a street corner without a facemask. Eighteen patients and 82 of their medical caregivers suffered COVID-19 cluster contagion at the National Center for Mental Health. Blind masseurs, pleading to be let back to livelihoods in malls and taught to avoid COVID-19 infection, have been ignored.

Their welfare is protected by law. Under the Rights of PWD Act of 2016 governments must ensure their equality, dignity of life, and respect. Appropriate policies and programs must be set to utilize their capacities. In 1991, R.A. 7277 provided for their rehabilitation, self-development, self-reliance, and integration into mainstream society.

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A viral meme about the Anti-Terror Bill: Why don’t we make an Anti-Corrupt Bill? And arrest them on mere suspicion.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government

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Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

MEKONG RIVER
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