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