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'Few hundred' at Manila anti-China rally

By Zhao Shengnan (China Daily)

08:10, July 25, 2013

An anti-China protest outside the Chinese diplomatic mission in Manila on Wednesday fell short of expectations, with only a few hundred people attending, rather than the 5,000 expected by the organizers.

The protest was arranged by the West Philippine Sea Coalition, a coalition of non-governmental groups that campaigns against China's position in an ongoing territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Waving Philippine flags and blowing horns, the crowd sang nationalist songs and yelled anti-China slogans. The Chinese embassy in Manila closed its visa office for "security reasons".

However, according to observers, the low turnout supports the view that the protests do not have popular support among ordinary people, who are more concerned about issues of welfare and quality of life.

Fu Zhigang, a Chinese correspondent in Manila, said many people he had interviewed in the capital knew nothing about the protests.

"The top concerns of ordinary people in the Philippines are their government's efforts to address domestic problems, as the unemployment rate soared to 7.5 percent in the first quarter of this year, a record high," he said.

"Protests are very common in the Philippines for different groups' interests, but most of the Philippine people are very friendly to China," he said.

The coalition behind Wednesday's protest includes a number of former Philippine government officials.

Despite denying any role in the protests, the Philippine government had given its tacit consent to the coalition groups, which echo its stance on territorial disputes, said Su Hao, a professor of Asia-Pacific studies at China Foreign Affairs University.

The coalition's call for protests came just a day after the Philippine foreign ministry announced on July 16 that the country's arbitral proceedings against China's territorial claims in the disputed seas were officially under way.

The Philippines is one of several countries that have overlapping claims with China over territories in the South China Sea.

China supports diplomatic methods of addressing the issues bilaterally with the concerned parties, and rejects international arbitration.

Chen Qinghong, a researcher on Philippine studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Manila was obviously using China as a scapegoat to distract people's anger over the government's failure at home.

On Monday, thousands of people took to the streets as Philippine President Benigno Aquino III delivered his annual State of the Nation Address, demanding better jobs, more inclusive growth and the protection of human rights.

"The tension over the South China Sea has been greatly eased, so it is better if Manila stops disturbing regional stability for the administration's interests," said Chen.

Mo Jingxi and AP contributed to this story.

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