BEIJING-The Chinese Navy has carried out more exercises in the disputed South China Sea over the past few days, its defence ministry said on Sunday, calling them routine drills.
China claims almost all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion (S$7 trillion) of maritime trade passes each year.
The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
"The People's Liberation Army Navy in recent days organised a fleet to go to relevant seas in the South China Sea, by way of the Western Pacific, to carry out exercises," China's defence ministry said in a brief statement.
"This action is a routine arrangement made in accordance with this year's naval training plan," it added, without elaborating.
Pictures on social media accounts of Chinese state media have in recent days shown pictures of Chinese Navy ships engaged in live-fire exercises in the South China Sea, without saying where exactly they took place.
China periodically announces such exercises in the South China Sea, as it tries to demonstrate it is being transparent about its military deployments.
It has been at odds with the United States of late over the strategic waterway.
Washington has criticised Beijing's building of artificial islands in the South China Sea's disputed Spratly archipelago and has conducted sea and air patrols near them.
Last month, US B-52 bombers flew near some of China's artificial islands and at the end of October a US guided-missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles (22.22 kilometers) off one of them.
$500-M annual losses
China expressed concern last week about an agreement between the United States and Singapore to deploy a US P-8 Poseidon spy plane to the city state, saying the move was aimed at militarizing the region.
Reefs buried by China in sand and rocks as it created artificial islands have expanded to nearly 1,200 hectares, raising to $500 million the annual losses in marine resources to the Philippines, China and other nations claiming territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a Filipino scientist said.
Oceanic reefs cannot be replaced, said Dr. Edgardo Gomez, founding director of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, at Clark Freeport on Friday.
The Inquirer interviewed him on the sidelines of rites conferring the Most Outstanding Kapampangan Awards.
"Coral can't grow on airstrips," said Gomez, 77, referring to the facilities built by China on Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef), Subi Reef (Zamora Reef), Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef) and four other major reefs in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Gomez estimated the maritime areas destroyed by China through satellite images generated by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which is doing the project Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative.
Oasis in desert
The estimate of losses is based on natural capital ecosystem service valued at $352,000 per hectare per year, he said.
"Long-term is forever," Gomez said, of the impact of the destruction because reefs were like oases in deserts.
For instance, fingerlings that are spawned on the reefs settle on the coastlines of the Ilocos region up to Palawan and Sulu.
Gomez said the reduction in fish production in those areas should be monitored and included, at some point, in the case the Philippines raised against China in a United Nations arbitral court in The Hague.
"What we've seen is a massive destruction by man in so short a time…. [China has] sacrificed nature for politics," he said.
Gomez's research on marine ecosystems served as bases for the management and conservation of marine resources in the Philippines.