World Bulletin/News Desk
Filipino activists, carrying placards and banners and waving small Philippine flags, held a noisy but peaceful protest on Friday outside a Chinese consular office in Manila over islands in the South China Sea claimed by both nations.
Only about 200 people turned up, way below initial crowd estimates.
The protesters prayed, sang patriotic hymns and chanted anti-China slogans. They left quietly after a one-hour protest under close watch of dozens of police.
Before the protesters arrived, anti-riot police stopped a man who got out of his car in front of the consular office and attempted to burn a Chinese flag marked with the message "Scarbourough is ours."
The row in the South China Sea is potentially the biggest flashpoint for confrontation in Asia, and tensions have risen since the United States launched a policy "pivot" last year to reinforce its influence in the region.
"The United States' shift in strategic focus to the east and its entry into the South China Sea issue has provided the Philippines with room for strategic manoeuvre, and to a certain extent increased the Philippines' chips to play against us, emboldening them to take a risky course," said the Liberation Army Daily, the chief mouthpiece of China's military.
The Philippines is one of Washington's closest allies in the region. The South China Sea islands, believed to be rich in oil and other resources, are claimed wholly or in part by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Beijing has warned Chinese nationals in Manila to stay indoors, avoid demonstrations and refrain from confrontations with locals. It has urged Manila to ensure the safety of its citizens. Taiwan issued a similar warning to its nationals in Manila.
In Beijing, authorities stepped up security around the Philippines' embassy, with squads of police waiting in streets near the mission and plainclothes guards also monitoring passers-by.
For China's ruling Communist Party, which is heading toward an end-of-year leadership succession, the dispute with Manila can divert attention from recent energy-sapping scandals over sacked Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai and blind dissident Chen Guangcheng.
Many Chinese, including military officers, have said popular anger could grow if Beijing remains too soft in responding to rival claims in the South China Sea. A hard approach to the dispute could underline a message of patriotic unity while serving as an antidote to domestic problems.
The Shanghai government-run website, eastday.com, published a photograph on Thursday that it said showed a reporter from a local TV station planting the Chinese flag on the main reef of the Huangyan island, the Chinese name of Scarborough shoal, where the Philippine coast guard and Chinese civilian ships are engaged in a more than month-long staring match.
Besides Manila, organisers planned protests at China's embassies and consulates in the United States, Canada, Australia, Italy and other Asian capitals. However no one showed up to a scheduled protest in Sydney.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 11 Mayıs 2012, 09:38