Philippines says China's reclamation causing ecological damage

MANILA (REUTERS) - The Philippines on Monday said China's reclamation work in the South China Sea had destroyed about 300 acres (1.2 sq km) of coral reef, causing annual estimated losses of US$100 million (S$ 1.36 million) to coastal nations.

China's rapid reclamation around seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago has alarmed other claimants, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, and prompted growing criticism from U.S. government officials and the military.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said Washington is concerned China is using its "sheer size and muscle" to push around smaller nations in the South China Sea, drawing a swift rebuke from Beijing.

China's reclamation activities are causing "irreversible and widespread" damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the South China Sea, the Philippine foreign ministry said in a statement.

"We cannot accept China's claim that its activities have not caused damage to the ecological environment of the South China Sea," it said, adding the economic losses from the destruction of coral reefs were estimated at US$100 million every year. "China has pursued these activities unilaterally, disregarding people in the surrounding states, who have depended on the sea for their livelihood for generations," it added.

The Philippines renewed its call on China to halt reclamation work, respect an informal code of conduct that Beijing signed with Southeast Asian nations in 2002, and work for long-term solutions to resolve maritime disputes peacefully.

China claims most of the potentially energy rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

The Philippine foreign ministry added that Beijing also tolerated harmful fishing practices in Scarborough Shoal, called Bajo de Masinloc in the Philippines. Beijing seized control of the area in 2012 after a three-month standoff with Manila.

Manila also criticised the statement of a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman detailing its plans in the reclaimed area, saying this would increase militarisation and threaten regional peace and stability.

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