Hundreds of Filipinos demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy in the Philippines over an escalating territorial row, with the protesters denouncing China’s rulers as arrogant bullies.
Waving national flags, the protesters on Friday called for Chinese ships to pull away from a disputed shoal in the South China Sea where both nations have had ships stationed for more than a month in an effort to assert their sovereignty.
“Our protest is directed at the overbearing actions and stance of the government in Beijing, which behaves like an arrogant overlord, even in the homes of its neighbours,” said rally organiser Loida Nicholas Lewis.
The protesters carried placards that read: “China stop bullying the Philippines”, “Make Peace Not War”, and “China, Stop Poaching in Philippine Waters”.
The territorial row centres on Scarborough Shoal, a tiny rocky outcrop in the South China Sea about 230 kilometres (140 miles) from the Philippines’ main island of Luzon.
The Philippines says the shoal is part of its territory because it falls within its exclusive economic zone.
But China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, which is believed to sit atop huge oil and gas reserves, as its historical territory, even waters close to the coasts of other Asian countries.
The nearest major Chinese landmass to Scarborough Shoal is 1,200 kilometres northwest of the shoal, according to Filipino navy maps.
Protesters at Friday’s rally said China’s actions over Scarborough Shoal should send a signal to other Asian countries about their giant neighbour.
“We just want the international community to understand that if, today, they can do it to the Philippines, they can also bully the other claimants too,” said one of the co-organisers of the rally, Jackson Gan.
Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia also claim parts of the South China Sea.
The stand-off began on April 8 when Philippine authorities detected eight Chinese fishing boats at the shoal. Philippine efforts to arrest the fishermen were thwarted when two Chinese surveillance vessels arrived at the scene.
Both sides have continued to maintain ships at the shoal, and Chinese authorities have reacted with increasing fury as the Philippines has refused to back down against its much stronger neighbour.
Editorials in newspapers controlled by the ruling Communist Party have repeatedly warned that China is prepared to go to war against the Philippines to win the stand-off.
The rival claims have for decades made the waters one of Asia’s potential military flashpoints.
More than 70 Vietnamese sailors were killed in 1988 when China and Vietnam battled for control of the Spratly Islands, an archipelago south of Scarborough Shoal.
Organisers of the protest in Manila said similar rallies were planned at other Chinese embassies around the world on Friday.
Chinese authorities this week ordered tour operators to suspend trips to the Philippines, in what Filipinos have widely interpreted as a form of economic blackmail.
Ahead of the demonstration China’s embassy in Manila advised Chinese citizens in the Philippines to stay indoors, warning their safety was at risk particularly during Friday’s protest.
But organisers had insisted the protest would be peaceful. Nearly an hour into the protest, at which about 300 people had gathered, there were no signs of violence. -By Cecil Morella