Philippines Rejects China’s Accusation of Reef Damage, Blames Beijing for Environmental Harm

The Philippines has vehemently rejected China’s accusation that its grounded warship stationed on the contested Second Thomas Shoal has damaged the coral reef ecosystem in the region. Instead, the Philippines has pointed the finger at Beijing, alleging that China has been responsible for causing significant harm to the marine environment.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Philippine task force on the South China Sea called for an independent, third-party scientific assessment to determine the causes of coral reef damage in the South China Sea. The task force asserted that China has a history of damaging the coral reefs, highlighting the severe impact of Chinese activities on the maritime environment and the livelihoods of numerous Filipino fishermen.

The Philippines’ response came after China’s Ministry of Natural Resources released a report on Monday, claiming that Philippine warships have been illegally beached around Second Thomas Shoal, which China refers to as Nansha Islands. The report accused the Philippines of causing substantial damage to the diversity, stability, and sustainability of the reef ecosystem.

The ongoing dispute between the Philippines and China over the Second Thomas Shoal has been a source of tension for years. The Philippines maintains a rusting warship, BRP Sierra Madre, which was deliberately beached in 1999 to solidify its maritime claims in the area. A small crew remains stationed on the ship.

In contrast, China has engaged in extensive dredging and construction activities in the South China Sea, building artificial islands that it claims are part of its territory. However, other nations view these activities as an attempt to enforce China’s claims to the waterway. A report released last year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies revealed that China’s construction activities have buried over 4,600 acres of reef.

China asserts its claim over almost the entirety of the strategically important South China Sea, through which $3 trillion worth of trade passes annually. This claim overlaps with territories claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. However, a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 found China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea to be legally baseless. Beijing has refused to acknowledge the ruling.

The Philippine task force, acknowledging attempts by Chinese experts to spread disinformation and exert influence, presented evidence that China has caused significant damage to coral reefs in multiple areas of the South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal and Sabina Shoal.

Last year, the Philippines announced its exploration of legal options against China, accusing the country of destroying coral reefs within its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. Beijing dismissed these allegations as an attempt to create political drama.

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