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Philippines to UN: China reclamation destroys nature

MANILA, Philippines – Citing the “widespread destruction of the region's biodiversity,” the Philippines slammed China before the United Nations (UN) for building artificial islands in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The Philippines' deputy representative to the UN in New York, Ambassador Irene Susan Natividad, said in a speech publicized on Tuesday, March 3, “Massive reclamation is a direct threat to the Philippines and other claimant states and should be considered a great concern for all states as it threatens the security and overall peace and stability in the region.”

“Moreover, the massive reclamation that is causing widespread destruction of the region’s biodiversity will also irreparably damage the entire ecological balance in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. Such irreversible damage will have long-term effects on all the peoples across geopolitical boundaries who have depended on the sea for their livelihood for generations,” Natividad explained at the UN Security Council Open Debate.

The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the UN debate took place on February 23.

The DFA said China convened the debate as it was the president of the UN Security Council in February. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was among those who attended the event.

The Philippines' recent statements came as China's artificial islands drew media attention again. 

On February 26, Rappler published more photos of reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea. Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez said the military is monitoring “the aggressive development of island reefs and features” in the contested waters.

ONGOING CONSTRUCTION. A photo obtained by Rappler shows the status of reclamation activities in Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as of December 12, 2014.

Endangering lives

In her speech, Natividad also said China's activities affect not only the ecosystem but also fishermen.

She urged other countries to protect those “who have been peacefully, sustainably, and legitimately pursuing their livelihood” in the disputed waters.

“Those whose actions endanger the lives of these people and those who do not heed the call for restraint are not being true to the cause of peace,” the ambassador said.

The Philippines has repeatedly warned the world about China's moves.

On January 28, the DFA said that according to Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, China's artificial islands threaten the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as “a critical issue in our own backyard.”

On the same day, ASEAN foreign ministers raised concerns about China's land reclamation in the South China Sea.

In 2014, the Philippines exposed China's construction of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea. The Southeast Asian country said China was building structures “for military purposes.”

By dumping sand in areas that originally had none, China is disrupting the status quo in the West Philippine Sea, according to the Philippines.

The Philippines argues that the “extensive reclamation” breaks a key regional declaration signed by the Philippines and China, and other ASEAN member-nations, in 2002.

This is the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which states: “The parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features, and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.” – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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