Vietnamese and Filipinos unite in anti-China rally

MANILA - Several hundred Filipino and Vietnamese protesters united in a march in the Philippine capital yesterday, demanding that China stop oil drilling in disputed South China Sea waters.

Filipino riot police blocked the entrance to a high-rise building that houses the Chinese consulate in Manila's financial district as around 200 protesters marched on the 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 crew members of a fishing boat seized by Filipino police in the disputed waters 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.

Manila has 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.

A Philippines foreign ministry spokesman said yesterday that the reclamation works at the Chinese-held Johnson South Reef - also claimed by the Philippines - could "jeopardise" a case that Manila has lodged with the United Nations over China's claims in the South China Sea, as the works would change the nature of the reef.

"If you change the character or nature of that feature, from a rock to an island, of course the maritime entitlements change too," he said.