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Philippines rejects China's accusation of environmental damage in South China Sea

Philippines rejects China's accusation of environmental damage in South China Sea
A Chinese navy ship is seen in the South China Sea on Oct 4, 2023.
PHOTO: Reuters file

MANILA — The Philippines on July 9 rejected China's accusation that its grounded warship on the contested Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea had damaged the coral reef ecosystem in the area, laying the blame for damaging the marine environment on Beijing.

The Philippine task force on the South China Sea in a statement called for an independent, third-party marine scientific assessment of the causes of coral reef damage in the South China Sea.

"It is China who has been found to have caused irreparable damage to corals. It is China that has caused untold damage to the maritime environment and jeopardised the natural habitat and the livelihood of thousands of Filipino fisherfolk," the task force said.

On July 8, China's Ministry of Natural Resources said in a report that Philippine warships have been "illegally beached" around Second Thomas Shoal near what it calls Nansha Islands for a long time, "and it has seriously damaged the diversity, stability and sustainability of the reef ecosystem".

The Philippines and Beijing have been embroiled in confrontations at the Second Thomas Shoal where Manila maintains a rusting warship, BRP Sierra Madre, that it beached in 1999 to reinforce maritime claims. A small crew is stationed on it.

China has in turn dredged sand and coral to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, which it says is normal construction activity on its territory, but which other nations say is aimed at enforcing its claim to the waterway.

A report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in 2023 found China's construction activity buried more than 1,861ha of reef.

China claims almost all of the vital waterway, where US$3 trillion (S$4.05 trillion) worth of trade passes annually, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

But The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 found China's expansive claims in the South China Sea had no legal basis. Beijing does not accept the ruling.

The Philippine task force, which warned of attempts by "Chinese experts" to sow disinformation and conduct malign influence, said it has evidence that China has been responsible for "severe damage to corals" in several areas in the South China Sea, including in Scarborough Shoal and Sabina Shoal.

In 2023, the Philippines said it was exploring legal options against China, accusing it of destruction of coral reefs within its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, an allegation rejected by Beijing as an attempt to "create political drama".

ALSO READ: China claims Philippine warships 'seriously damaged' reef ecosystem in South China Sea

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