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Philippines Refutes China's Claims of Environmental Damage in South China Sea

Published On Tue, 09 Jul 2024
Arya Iyer
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Manila — On July 9, the Philippines dismissed China's claim that its grounded warship at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea had caused damage to the coral reef ecosystem there, placing responsibility for environmental harm squarely on Beijing. The Philippine task force overseeing matters in the South China Sea issued a statement calling for an independent third-party assessment of the coral reef damage in the area. It asserted, "It is China that has been identified as causing irreversible harm to coral reefs. China has inflicted significant damage on the marine environment, endangering natural habitats and the livelihoods of thousands of Filipino fishermen."
China's Ministry of Natural Resources, in a report released on July 8, alleged that Philippine warships had been illegally grounded near Second Thomas Shoal, also known as Nansha Islands, for an extended period, resulting in serious harm to the diversity, stability, and sustainability of the reef ecosystem.
The Philippines and China have been engaged in disputes over Second Thomas Shoal, where Manila deliberately grounded the BRP Sierra Madre warship in 1999 to bolster its maritime claims, maintaining a small crew on board. Meanwhile, China has conducted extensive dredging operations to construct artificial islands in the South China Sea, justifying these activities as routine construction within its sovereign territory, a stance contested by other nations.
According to a report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in 2023, China's construction efforts have covered more than 1,861 hectares of reef. China asserts territorial claims over nearly all of the strategically crucial waterway, which sees an annual flow of trade worth US$3 trillion (S$4.05 trillion), including areas also claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
In 2016, The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China's expansive claims in the South China Sea lacked legal basis, a decision Beijing has refused to accept. The Philippine task force, cautioning against disinformation efforts by Chinese experts, presented evidence of severe coral damage caused by China in various South China Sea locations, including Scarborough Shoal and Sabina Shoal.
In 2023, the Philippines indicated it was exploring legal avenues against China, accusing Beijing of damaging coral reefs within its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, a charge dismissed by China as a political maneuver.
Disclaimer: This image is taken from Reuters.
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