On 13 April 2015, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) released a statement calling out China’s reclamation activities as causing “irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the South China Sea (SCS)/West Philippine Sea (WPS).” The DFA pointed out that China’s activities have so far caused destruction to over 300 hectares of coral reef systems, amounting to an annual economic loss of USD 100 million as well as constituting a threat to the livelihood of people s and communities in the littoral countries. The statement also criticized China for “tolerating harmful practices and harvesting of endangered species” protected under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This is in relation to the number of incidents where Chinese fishers were foun d to be poaching giant clams, green sea turtles and other endangered species in the WPS/SCS, to which the Philippine government has already raised several protests.
The Philippines has long voiced out its concern and opposition to China’s reclamation activities, but much attention has been on how China’s unilateral actions violate the terms of the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC-SCS), how they create strategic dilemmas and military threats for other claimant states, and how they can undermine freedom of navigation and overflight in one of the world’s busiest sea lines of communication (SLOC). Thus, the recent statement on the environmental impact of China’s reclamation is a notable development as it emphasizes this equally critical but often overlooked angle of the SCS issue.