MANILA, April 13 (UPI) -- China's activities in the South China Sea have increasingly raised the ire of its neighbors. With each new island reclamation project or offshore oil exploration effort, tensions are tightened.
Now, the Philippines are once again pointing their finger accusingly -- this time arguing that China's island-building work is causing irreparable damage to vulnerable coral reefs and the marine life they support.
"China has pursued these activities unilaterally, disregarding people in the surrounding states who have depended on the sea for their livelihood for generations," Charles Jose, the Philippines' foreign affairs spokesman, said during a news briefing Monday.
In recent years, China has conducted a number of reclamation projects, in which sands are deposited in, on and around the small islands and reefs in the South China Sea, including marine territory claimed by the Philippines, as wells as portions claimed by Vietnam, Myanmar and others.
At Monday's news conference, Jose accused China of destroying a number of reef sites in what's known as the West Philippine Sea -- creating artificial islets atop buried reefs, like Johnson South and Calderon, and expanding partially buried reefs, like Fiery Cross and Mischief Reef.
Last week, Hua Chunying, China's foreign affairs spokesman, said his country's reclamation efforts would serve the Communist Party's military and defensive needs.
Earlier this year, the Philippines filed a formal complaint against China. Experts suggest China's accelerating reclamation efforts like those at Mischief Reef are a reaction to that move.
"The reclamation was clearly a response to the arbitration. If ever China had real plans to do this before, clearly the arbitration case accelerated those plans," Dr. Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, told CNN.
Jose also accused China of ignoring illegal and irresponsible fishing practices among the rich fishing grounds known as the Scarborough Shoal.