Filipinos Hold Anti-China Protest in Manila Amid Sea Dispute

Posted May 11th, 2012 at 5:55 am (UTC-5)
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Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in Manila on Friday to show support for the Philippines in a simmering standoff with China over a disputed island chain in the South China Sea.

Many of the protesters waved national flags, chanted anti-China slogans, and carried signs calling for the Chinese government to pull its ships away from the contested Scarborough Shoal, known as Panatag in the Philippines.

Rally organizer Emman Hizon says he wants the international community to help resolve the month-long dispute.

“The main objective of the protest action is to call the attention of the international community with regards to the Chinese government's continuing and escalating intrusions in the Panatag shoal area, which we strongly believe is part of the Philippines' territory.”

China has issued a safety warning to its citizens in the Philippines and is calling on Manila to ensure that the demonstrations remain peaceful. However, the protests appeared to be smaller than expected and no violence was reported.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei blamed the Philippine government for encouraging the protests, which he says escalate the situation.

“The Philippines made a wrong move in complicating and magnifying the current situation by inciting protests at the Chinese Embassy.”

Several Chinese protesters also demonstrated outside the Philippines Embassy in Beijing on Friday amid a heavy police presence.

The dispute began over a month ago when Chinese surveillance vessels prevented a Philippine warship from arresting Chinese fishermen in the contested waters northwest of the Philippines.

Both sides have used increasingly heated language in the conflict, with Chinese state media on Thursday even hinting at the possibility of war.

But a Friday editorial in the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times appeared to dial back the rhetoric, saying “cool heads must prevail.”

China has indicated there will be economic consequences for what it views as “provocative” and “groundless” claims to the island by the Philippines.

Most of China's travel agencies have suspended trips to the Philippines. And the official China Daily said Friday that shipments of fruit from the Philippines will now be subject to stricter inspections, saying that much of its imports are piling up at Chinese border docks.

China says the islands, known as Huangyan in China, are a key part of Chinese territory and that any Philippine claim to them is baseless. The Philippines says the shoal is within its internationally recognized exclusive economic zone.

China has already rejected a request by the Philippines to refer the issue to an international court.

The standoff is part of a wider territorial dispute in the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. China claims nearly the entire region, which is thought to contain large amounts of oil and natural gas.

To ease tensions, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been negotiating details on a code of conduct in the South China Sea. The deadline for reaching an agreement is July 2012.