‘Almost an invasion’: Protesters in Philippines slam Duterte for weak response over disputes in South China Sea

  • Flag-waving marchers chanted ‘China out’ and brandished a banner saying ‘Defend our sovereign rights’ outside the Chinese consular office in Manila
  • Tensions have flared since hundreds of Chinese vessels appeared recently near the Philippines-held Thitu Island
Topic | South China Sea

Agence France-Presse

Published:

Updated:

Protesters march in front of the Chinese consular office in Manila. Photo: AFP

Protesters descended on the Chinese embassy in Manila on Tuesday to oppose China’s growing sway in the Philippines, as tensions continue to rise over Beijing’s presence in the contested South China Sea.

Flag-waving marchers chanted “China out” and brandished a banner saying “Defend our sovereign rights”, referring to Beijing’s expansive claims to the resource-rich waterway.

“The government headed by President [Rodrigo] Duterte is not responding. What China is doing is almost an invasion,” said Alex Legaspi, a 53-year-old teacher.

While Duterte has largely set aside the once-heated territorial stand-off over the sea, tensions have flared since hundreds of Chinese vessels appeared recently near the Manila-held Thitu Island.

Protesters carrying national flags and placards in Manila. Photo: AFP

The Philippines called the boats’ presence “illegal” and Duterte threatened China with possible military action if it touches the island.

However, the president has repeatedly said war with China would be futile and he has no intention of getting into a conflict with the rising power he has courted for trade and investment.

US, China ‘at greater risk of military incidents’ in South China Sea

“You know, Red China or Communist China just wants to be friends with us,” Duterte said in a speech on April 2.

Protesters shout slogans in front of the Chinese consular office in Manila. Photo: AFP

Duterte has been criticised at home as being too eager to grow ties with Beijing, and giving up too much leverage on the South China Sea issue. The United States has meanwhile moved to boost its relationship with long-time ally and former colony the Philippines.

A small group of policemen monitored the protesters, who numbered around 1,000, according to journalists at the scene. The marchers dispersed peacefully after the demonstration.

Protesters also voiced simmering unease over the terms Chinese loans for infrastructure in the Philippines, including a massive dam-building project.

Manila mulls taking South China Sea dispute over Thitu island to UN

China is poised to loan some US$210 million toward the construction of the Kaliwa Dam, a project that has been delayed for years and would fill gaps in the Philippines’ chronic need for infrastructure.

A protester holds up a placard warning of a debt trap with China. Photo: AFP

“We cannot allow … China to control Filipinos and the Philippines’ sovereignty,” said Wilma Quierrez, 53, a member of an indigenous rights group.

“The loan agreement signed by [Chinese President] Xi Jinping and President Duterte will send us into debt trap,” she said.

South China Sea
The Philippines
Diplomacy
Defence
Rodrigo Duterte
Chinese offshore investment
Infrastructure in Asia
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