Filipino and Vietnamese protesters took to the streets in Makati City on Friday to condemn Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
About 200 protesters marched to the Chinese consulate to slam the presence of a Chinese oil drilling rig near the Paracel Islands, which are being claimed by Vietnam.
They called China’s action a “blatant violation of international law, infringement upon Vietnam’s sovereignty rights, and if, successful, would constitute dangerous precedents in international relations.”
Joining the demonstration were Vietnamese students and businessmen in the Philippines.
Police blocked the entrance to a high-rise building that houses the Chinese consulate.
The street action, which remained peaceful, came after deadly riots in Vietnam that Hanoi said were triggered by China’s deployment of a deep-sea oil rig in a part of the South China Sea.
The protesters, some wearing green cardboard cut-outs of turtle shells, carried placards that read “Vietnam-Philippines join hands to kick off China,” “China Stop Bullying Vietnam and the Philippines” and “We Support Vietnam.”
The Philippines this week filed criminal charges against nine Chinese fishermen whose boat was seized by Filipino police in disputed waters near Palawan for collecting hundreds of protected giant sea turtles.
The protesters also chanted “Paracels Vietnam,” referring to the South China Sea island chain where the Chinese oil rig is deployed.
Filipino politicians joined members of Manila’s Vietnamese community at the demonstration.
“We are here to protest what China is doing against Vietnam. We need to call on the support of local and international friends,” Arya Nguyen, one of about 60 Philippines-based Vietnamese who joined the protest, told Agence France-Presse.
“If they [the Chinese government]can do that to Vietnam, they can do it to everybody,” echoed Janicee Buco, a Filipina representative of a community group called Vietnam Filipino Association.
Buco said the Vietnamese who took part were Philippines-based descendants of Vietnamese boat people who fled with the aim of being resettled in the West after the Vietnam war.
The protesters said they felt aggrieved over China’s recent moves to assert its territorial claims over most of the strategic and resource-rich waters, including the oil-rig deployment that Hanoi said triggered ramming incidents involving Vietnamese and Chinese vessels.
Like the two communist rivals, the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Taiwan also have claims to the sea, which overlap those of China and Vietnam.
Manila also accused Beijing of illegal land reclamation on a reef that Filipino officials said could be used to build China’s first airstrip in the disputed waters.
Manila from time to time arrests Vietnamese fishermen for poaching in Filipino coastal waters, but bilateral ties are otherwise cordial.
Both nations have overlapping claims to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, but there has been little tension over those as they work together through Asean to contain China’s territorial ambitions.
Also on Friday, a state-run Chinese newspaper backed the use of “non-peaceful” measures against Vietnam and the Philippines, as it considered the possibility of war in the West Philippine Sea, internationally known as South China Sea.
“The South China Sea disputes should be settled in a peaceful manner, but that doesn’t mean China can’t resort to non-peaceful measures in the face of provocation from Vietnam and the Philippines,” the Global Times newspaper, which often takes a nationalistic tone, wrote in an editorial.
“Many people believe that a forced war would convince some countries of China’s sincerely peaceful intentions,” the paper said.
Beijing claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, including areas close to the coasts of other littoral states.
China’s foreign ministry has condemned both Manila and Hanoi, and accused Vietnam’s leaders on Thursday of “indulgence and connivance” with anti-China demonstrators for failing to rein in the protests.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi denounced the riots in a telephone conversation also on Thursday night with his Vietnamese counterpart, according to the Global Times.
Beijing has also dispatched to Vietnam a working team led by Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao, according to a diplomatic statement.
At a news conference on Friday, Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang warned that the riots could have repercussions for Vietnam’s business interests.
“The incident has led Chinese companies to stop operations and suffer enormous property losses,” Shen said.
The state-run China Daily newspaper weighed in, warning that if the violence continues to escalate, “it will only add to the distrust and enmity between the Vietnamese and Chinese peoples.”
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, who joined the Makati rally, said Vietnam may also file an arbitration case against China.
The Philippines has filed a case before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea against China’s intrusion into Philippine-claimed territories in the West Philippine Sea, particularly in the Scarborough Shoal, the Ayungin Shoal and the Mabini Reef.
Bello said when he was in Vietnam three weeks ago, Vietnamese officials revealed to him that they were also thinking of filing a similar case against China.
“Although they do not explicitly say that they support our case before the UN . . . Nevertheless, it is our right [to]launch such a claim. Informally speaking, they are very supportive of the claim,” he added. ith