MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The United States has expressed concerns over major land reclamation projects in Manila Bay near its heavily secured embassy due to the involvement of a Washington-blacklisted Chinese company, the U.S. Embassy said Wednesday.
Embassy spokesperson Kanishka Gangopadhyay said the U.S. also expressed its concerns over the potential environmental impact of the reclamations in Manila Bay in discussions with Philippine government officials.
Environmental groups have staged protests against the yearslong government-approved reclamations, mostly by real estate companies seeking to build islands on which to anchor upscale hotels, casinos, restaurants and entertainment centers in a bay long notorious for pollution. Others worry that high-rise buildings built on reclaimed land would block ordinary folks’ view of Manila Bay’s famous sunset.
“We have expressed concerns about the potential negative long-term and irreversible impacts to the environment, the resilience to natural hazards of Manila and nearby areas, and to commerce,” Gangopadhyay said in a statement.
“We are also concerned that the projects have ties to the China Communications Construction Co., which has been added to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Entity List for its role in helping the Chinese military construct and militarize artificial islands in the South China Sea,” he said.
There was no immediate comment from Chinese government officials.
Chinese companies that have been placed on the list are restricted from trading with any U.S. firms without gaining a nearly unobtainable special license. China protests the U.S. sanctions as illegal.
The state-owned China Communications Construction Co. has said that one of its subsidiaries, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd., was involved in a project that includes building three artificial islands at the bay near suburban Pasay city in the capital region.
Retired Philippine Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, a vocal critic of China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea, said Chinese companies that took part in the extensive dredging and land reclamations to build Beijing’s islands in waters where Manila’s sovereign rights have been upheld in an international arbitration ruling should be banned from doing business in the Philippines.
“They clearly violated Philippine environmental laws,” Carpio told The Associated Press. “Worse, they helped China seize Philippine island territories and maritime zones.”
A 2016 decision by an arbitration tribunal set up in The Hague under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea invalidated China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea on historical grounds. But China did not participate in the arbitration, rejected its ruling as a sham and continues to defy it.
Washington does not lay a claim to the South China Sea but has said that freedom of navigation and overflight in the strategic passage — where a big chunk of the world’s trade transits — and the peaceful resolution of the decades-long disputes were in the U.S. national interest.
China turned at least seven disputed reefs into what are now missile-protected island bases in the past decade, alarming the U.S. and its allies, along with Beijing’s rival claimant states, and intensifying tensions in a region long feared as an Asian flashpoint.
The long-simmering territorial conflicts have become a delicate front in the U.S.-China rivalry. U.S. warships and fighter jets have patrolled the disputed waters to challenge China’s expansive territorial claims, often provoking Chinese warnings for the U.S. to stop meddling in the disputes or face unspecified punitive steps.