Beijing going on an island-building binge?
China built artificial islands, airstrips, radar stations and missile sites in the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea
The harvesting of corals on Rozul Reef could be part of China’s preparations for new reclamation in the West Philippine Sea, senators warned Monday.
Citing China’s “playbook,” Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri suspected the destruction of the shoal’s seabed could be in preparation for reclamation activities in the area.
“It’s possible. That has been their guidebook and playbook since the beginning where they destroy an area first and then reclaim it. That’s why we have to remain vigilant,” Zubiri said.
The warning came on the same day that Japan’s ambassador to the Philippines, Kazuhiko Koshikawa, revealed in a social media post that his country had also been a victim of coral poaching in the past.
“In the territorial waters and EEZ (exclusive economic zone) around Japan’s Ogasawara Islands, the large-scale poaching of precious corals by foreign vessels occurred 10 years ago, causing marine environmental and economic damage to Japan, leading to [a] diplomatic issue and strict JCG (Japan Coast Guard) controls,” Koshikawa tweeted on X.
The envoy, however, did not name the country responsible for the pillaging of corals off Ogasawara Islands.
Over the weekend, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command reported that there was massive coral harvesting at Rozul Reef. The report of missing and destroyed corals came following the sightings of Chinese maritime militia vessels in the area.
The report was confirmed by the Philippine Coast Guard, which observed the same coral inundation in the seabed of Escoda Reef (Sabina Shoal), also in the West Philippine Sea.
Senator Francis Tolentino, who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Maritime and Admiralty Zones, echoed the Senate chief’s observation that China may be planning to build manmade structures at Rozul Reef like it did in the Spratlys group of islands, also in the WPS.
China built artificial islands in the Spratlys — at the Fiery Cross, Subi, Mischief, Johnson South, Cuarteron, Gave and Hughes reefs — where it constructed airstrips, radar stations and missile sites.
“There might be a different plan for that, not only the harvesting of corals and the destruction of it. Because killing the corals is a prelude to one thing — when you kill it you can now do reclamation,” Tolentino said in a television interview.
He noted that China’s actions in the reefs that are all within the Philippines’ EEZ violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. “If we are to file a claim for damages, it should be in the tribunal recognized by UNCLOS and the United Nations,” he said.
He noted that the Philippine government may file cases against China before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Court of Justice, or the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros said the recent developments in the West Philippine Sea called for a Senate inquiry.
“It’s ripe for a Senate resolution and investigation because it would not be the first time that China caused environmental degradation in our sea,” Hontiveros said.
“They also dredged our seafloor to invent their artificial islands, militarize them, within the West Philippine Sea and our exclusive economic zone, to claim it as their territory,” she pointed out.
The lawmaker expressed gratitude to the Armed Forces of the Philippines for its discovery of the damaged seabed at Rozul and Escoda Reefs.
WITH LADE JEAN KABAGANI
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