MANILA – During the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) meeting, Philippine Representative Lourdes Yparraguirre raised the issue of China’s progressing land reclamation activities which should be of global concern.
Despite calls for a halt, China still continued building massive artificial lands in Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“[China’s island-building] threatens the integrity of the convention, our constitution for the oceans,” Yparraguirre said, noting that the Unclos was signed by the Philippines and China.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Unclos ‘defines the rights and responsibilities’ of the said countries ‘with respect to the use of the world’s oceans, and establishes guidelines for businesses, the environment and the management of marine natural resources.’
But even with the Unclos, Yparraguirre pointed out that China continued to trespass the Philippine’s territory, depriving the latter of its rights to its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Yparraguirre cited one example that in 2012, China agreed to withdraw its naval presence in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) which was within the Philippines’ EEZ. But until now, China continued to control the shoal and even prohibited Filipino fishermen in the area.
Aside from disregarding the Unclos, China also violated the China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
“To undertake… [China’s] ocean filling or reclamation… has had to dredge out and pulverize entire systems of coral reefs that took many centuries to grow, reducing them to landfill, and thus devastating the already fragile marine ecosystem and biodiversity of the region by irreparably destroying the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life,” Yparraguirre said, pointing out that China’s massive land reclamation activities had already amounted to an estimated economic loss of $281 million.
“There should be no attempt to assert territorial or maritime claims through intimidation, coercion or force, including through unilateral and aggressive action such as massive, large-scale land reclamation. There should be no pattern of forcing change in the status quo in order to advance a [claim] of undisputed sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea,” Yparraguirre added.
Aside from building artificial lands in Panganiban Reef and Panatag Shoal, China’s naval presence has also been in control of Mabini (Johnson South), McKennan (Hughes), Calderon (Cuarteron), Gavin (Gaven) and Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reefs.