Philippines plans tourist resort on disputed islands

Looking for a vacation destination featuring sun, sand, and thumbing your nose at China's geopolitical ambitions? Have you considered the Spratlys?

The Philippines plans to develop a disputed island in the South China Sea into a tourism centre with a 100-metre (330-ft) concrete wharf, officials said on Monday, a bold assertion of its sovereignty that is bound to rile China.

Last week, China protested the planned construction of a beaching ramp by the Philippines on the coral-fringed island, the second largest in the Spratlys and the biggest occupied by the Philippines in the contested region.[..]

A Philippine navy commander said local authorities planned to transform military-held areas of the Spratlys into tourist attractions, including potential diving spots.

In the 1990s, Japanese tourists frequented the area for its pristine beaches and coral reefs, ferried by yacht from Cebu Island in the Philippines.

But the military will first build a pier on Thitu, possibly by the second half of the year, Juan Sta. Ana, head of the Philippine Ports Authority, told Reuters. A panel of defence, tourism and transportation and communications officials will finalise a development plan for the island after April 8.

China claims "indisputable sovereignty" over the area based on historical records, a claim that just might be motivated by the estimated 213 barrels of oil in the South China Sea. Various sections of the uninhabitable 250-island chain are claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, though only China claims all of them. The dispute has sometimes become violent: at least 70 sailors were killed in a skirmish between the Chinese and Vietnamese navies over a disputed reef in 1988. 

But hey, why let that get in the way of some good diving?


Calderon pushes for U.S. to reinstate assault weapon ban

At White House Rose Garden press conference yesterday following a meeting with President Obama and Stephen Harper of Canada, Mexican President Felipe Calderon had some blunt words about U.S. gun control policy: 

"The expiring of the assault weapons ban in the year 2004 coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the harshest - the harshest - period of violence we've ever seen,"[...]  In remarks to reporters in the Rose Garden, Calderon urged the U.S. to do more to tamp down on gun trafficking and emphasized that the drug cartels that crime organizations are operating on both sides of the border. He claimed a direct connection between the weakening of gun laws in the U.S. and deaths in his country.

"I know that if we don't stop the traffic of weapons into Mexico, if we don't have mechanisms to forbid the sale of weapons such as we had in the '90s, or for registry of guns, at least for assault weapons, then we are never going to be able to stop the violence in Mexico or stop a future turning of those guns upon the U.S.," he said.

Obama, whose administration has not pushed to reinstate the ban, did not respond to the Mexican president's statement directly.

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As Kathleen Hennessey notes to McClatchy, Obama and congressional democrats have largely "called a truce when it comes to advancing new gun control legislation" and any movement on the assault weapons ban is pretty unlikely during an election year. Neither leader mentioned the controversial "fast and furious" gun-running program, currently under investigation by Congress.

In the past year, Calderon -- now a lame duck -- has become more strident in his criticisms of U.S. policy. Speaking at the U.N. last September, he suggested that drug consumer countries like the United States were "morally obliged" to consider "market alternatives" to drug enforcement. 

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