Filipino, Vietnamese protesters demand China leave South China Sea areas their countries claim

By , on May 17, 2014


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MANILA, Philippines—Filipinos and Vietnamese residents in the Philippine capital staged a joint protest Friday against China’s incursions into South China Sea territories claimed by their countries.

Chanting “China get out,” more than 100 Filipinos and Vietnamese picketed the Chinese consulate carrying banners, including one that urged Manila and Hanoi to “join hands” against Beijing.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, a busy sea lane and fishing ground atop what is believed to be rich oil and gas reserves.

Chinese and Vietnamese ships have been locked in a standoff since early this month after Beijing deployed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands claimed by Hanoi. Anti-China protests in Vietnam have turned violent, killing at least one Chinese worker at a Taiwanese steel mill.

Manila has also protested Chinese land reclamation on a reef that it says is Philippine territory.

Philippine Congressman Walden Bello said the protesters were denouncing Beijing’s moves as provocative. “This protest is all about telling China, ‘Please stop your aggressive moves in our territories. Please respect the rule of international law,”‘ he said.

Bello also accused China of allowing its fishermen to catch and butcher endangered turtles in Philippine waters. Philippine police charged nine Chinese fishermen who were apprehended last week for catching more than 500 turtles near a reef claimed by Manila.

This week, the Philippines said China has reclaimed land on the Johnson South Reef in violation of a 2002 nonbinding agreement to not occupy uninhabited areas in the disputed waters.

Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Charles Jose said Friday that turning the reef into an island in effect shrinks the Philippines’ territorial claim. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, the maritime entitlement for a rock is 12 nautical miles while it is 200 nautical miles for an island.

The Philippines said the change jeopardizes Manila’s international arbitration case, which primarily seeks clarification on maritime jurisdiction and entitlements.

“If you will change the character or nature of that feature, from a rock to an island, of course, the maritime entitlement will become different, it will be bigger,” Jose said. “So our area shrinks, so we are jeopardized.” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday the Philippines lodged the protest last month after surveillance aircraft confirmed and took pictures of the reclamation and dredging by Chinese vessels at the reef.

Del Rosario said it was not clear what China would build on the reef, which Manila claims as part of its western province of Palawan, but that one possibility was an airstrip. A senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the issue, said China could also build an offshore military and resupply and refuelling hub.

China has insisted the area is its territory and work there is covered by Chinese sovereignty.

Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.