A seminar in Manila last Friday (Nov 22) heard how reclamation work carried out by China in the South China Sea while the Philippines sat through a lengthy and costly arbitration hearing has caused extensive damage that extends to global ecosystems.
Of this 104 square kilometers (40 sq.miles) was damaged by China’s giant clam (taklobo) harvesting’.
All of this occurred, said marine biologist Dr Kent Carpenter, while the arbitral case filed by the Philippines was being heard in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague, Netherlands.
Dr Carpenter, a consultant to the Philippine legal team in the South China Sea arbitration hearing, exhibited satellite images he said showed how China’s rapid construction had increased the amount of sedimentation around Mischief Reef.
Six other artificial islands China had built in the South China Sea were similarly affected, he said.
Listening to the tale of destruction and pillaging was former Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Albert del Rosario, former Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio-Morales, and Vietnamese Ambassador to the Philippines, Ly Quoc Tuan, whose country has its own problems with China.
Mr del Rosario was responsible for the filing and representations before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague against China’s claim to all resources inside its so-called Nine-Dash Line, in particular Scarborough Shoal.
In March he and Ms Carpio-Morales filed a case against Chinese President Xi Jinping in the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. The complaint alleges crimes against humanity and “massive” environmental destruction by China in connection with its activities to gain control in the South China Sea.
According to Ms Zambrano, Dr Carpenter said giant clam harvesting by China in the region continues today, with such poaching placing them, as well as marine organisms such as corals, sharks, rays, sea turtle, and even lapu-lapu (a species of grouper) at risk.
“We assume that it will take decades, if not centuries for coral reefs to be re-established in the islands that were destroyed”, Dr Carpenter reportedly said, adding, “because the Philippines now has less fishery resources than before, you’ll have to work harder to protect it.”
Through the use of heat maps Dr Carpenter showed how spawning activity in the South China Sea affects ecosystems globally; damage or interruption caused in the South China Sea will affect ecosystems around the world, he said.
Also addressing the seminar was Dr. Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs & Law of the Sea (UPIMLOS), who, according to Ms Zambrano, said “Filipinos are now moving away from Scarborough Shoal and fishing elsewhere. This is the face of China’s colonization of the South China Sea.
“The time for silence is over. Our long-term survival depends on it. Aside from climate change, there is deliberate destruction going on. Stop the destruction. You don’t have to solve the case right away.”
China’s aggressive reclamation activities and ongoing bullying of local fisherman in the South China Sea has been a divisive issue under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has continuously turned a blind eye to Chinese incursions while pursuing low-interest loans and grant aid for his ambitious ‘build, build, build’ infrastructure projects.
Since late 2018 satellite imagery has regularly shown Chinese clam harvesting fleets operating at Scarborough Shoal, locally known as “Panatag”and throughout the Paracel Island chain.
Although the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) rejected all claims by China in the South China Sea in July 2016, saying they were not in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Duterte administration has refused to insist that Beijing respects the ruling.
Last April, Foreign Affairs Secretary, Teodoro Locsin Jr., tweeted that the Philippine government would taking legal action against Chinese nationals harvesting giant clams in Scarborough, but backflipped a few days later saying Manila and Beijing should not go to war over clams.
The clams stolen by China had been seeded by the UP Marine Science Institute in the 1980s. Used in China as a substitute for ivory, each shell is worth about PHP25,000 ($490).