US issues environmental warning about Chinese firm’s Manila Bay reclamation projects


The China Communications Construction Co. is on a U.S. blacklist over military construction in South China Sea.

US issues environmental warning about Chinese  firm's Manila Bay reclamation projects

An aerial photo shows the U.S. Embassy complex (foreground) and a reclamation project (upper left) off Manila Bay, Aug. 2, 2023. Credit: Ted Aljibe/AFP

Reclamation projects in Manila Bay being built by a Chinese firm on a U.S. blacklist could have “irreversible environmental impacts,” the American embassy here warned on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the embassy, which fronts the bay and is near the projects that include the construction of artificial islands, said there had been no “regular discussions” with the Philippine government about the ongoing projects. 

“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,” spokesman Kanishka Gangopadhyay said in a statement. 

The United States had noted the projects’ links to the state-run China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. (CCCC), “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. 

In addition, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has included CCCC on its sanctions list.

“The company has also been cited by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for engaging in fraudulent business practices. We continue to support high quality, sustainable, and transparent investments to benefit the Filipino people and will continue to engage with the appropriate authorities on this matter,” Gangopadhyay said. 

In 2020, the U.S. blacklisted CCCC and 23 other state-owned companies for their role in helping Beijing’s “expansionist agenda” in the South China Sea. 

The U.S. State Department barred the companies from receiving American-made components. 

The World Bank, from 2009 to 2017, barred CCCC from participating in all its funded or executed projects after determining that the Chinese company had colluded with several local and international companies on bidding for the first phase of the Philippine National Roads Improvement and Management Program.

Unfunded projects

Last year, Ernesto Pernia, the socioeconomic planning secretary under former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, told BenarNews that the government should look at loans from sources other than Beijing. He noted that China heavily promoted railway projects during Duterte’s term (2016-22), but by the time the president left office, they remained unfunded. 

“Having been the agnostic in the economic team about Chinese officials’ promises or seeming generosity, I would not recommend revisiting/reviewing the three railway projects with the Chinese and just drop them altogether,” Pernia said in July 2022.

Reclamation projects

Today, at least three of more than a dozen Manila Bay reclamation projects involve subsidiaries of CCCC. These projects were approved during the Duterte administration, officials said.

The first Philippine Reclamation Authority project is a U.S. $1 billion, 890-acre reclamation project in Pasay City, part of Metro Manila. China Harbor Engineering, a CCCC subsidiary, is one of two firms contracted to build three artificial islands for Philippine developer and mall operator SM Prime Holdings. 

The subsidiary also is involved in the 655-acre Pasay Harbor City Reclamation Project (PHCRP), a joint venture between Pasay City and Pasay Harbor City Corp., with two companies owned by friends of Duterte. 

“It is intended to be developed for mixed uses of residential and commercial spaces with integrated tourism, port facilities for cruise ships, and theme parks allocation. The project’s concept is to design the development into a commercial business district by the bay,” authority CEO Janilo Rubiato said in a report submitted to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in March.  

The other is the ongoing Manila Waterfront City Project, a partnership between China First Highway Engineer Co. Ltd., another CCCC subsidiary, and Waterfront Manila Premier Development Inc. for the reclamation of 785 acres of land.  

The Marcos administration and the Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond on Wednesday to BenarNews requests for comment.

More CCCC projects 

In January, Marcos met with CCCC officials who made a courtesy call at the presidential Malacañang Palace. Marcos expressed willingness to cooperate on infrastructure projects with the Chinese firm, according to a statement from his office. 

“The president said the central part of his government’s economic policy is the establishment, endorsement, and promotion of PPPs [public-private partnerships], in which the CCCC could participate,” the statement said.

At the same meeting, CCCC officials pitched the construction of a 270-km (168-mile) highway linking Laoag City, in Marcos’ home province of Ilocos Norte, to Rosario City in La Union province. 

CCCC, including its 60 subsidiaries, is a key player in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive network of trade and transport infrastructure linking China with the rest of Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. 

In 2020, CCCC and a local partner initially won a deal to modernize an airport south of Manila near the Philippine Navy base, but that project fell through.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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