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Filipinos back government on China dispute, but want more diplomacy

While most Filipinos say that their government should not yield to to Chinese pressure in the South China Sea, others say that Manila could improve its diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue.

By Correspondent / May 22, 2012

Protesters shout slogans while staging a die-in protest against the port call made by the US submarine USS North Carolina at the US Embassy in Manila, Philippines, last week.

Bullit Marquez/AP

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Manila, Philippines

As a territorial row between China and the Philippines continues in the South China Sea – known here as the West Philippine Sea – Filipinos are nervously gauging how that will impact relations between the two countries.

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Last week China denied it was increasing military readiness one month into a stand-off, which started April 10 after the Philippine Navy boarded Chinese fishing boats allegedly-poaching near the Scarborough Shoal. 

While most Filipinos say that their government is correct in not yielding to Chinese pressure over its claims to the South China Sea, and there has been something of a cooling-off in recent days, others say that Manila could better manage the finer points of its diplomacy and engage the country's Chinese-Filipino community to build bridges with mainland Chinese.

"Both sides have sought to de-escalate the immediate problem by imposing a fishing ban in the area," says Aileen Baviera, professor of Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines. However, the root of the dispute remains, she adds. "The conflicting claims on the West Philippine Sea are still there."

Despite the fact that the shoal sits about 140 miles from the Philippines' main island, Beijing says it and the surrounding waters belong to China. China's claims to the resource-rich South China Sea has increasingly put Beijing at loggerheads with Vietnam, where the South China Sea is known as the East Sea, as well as the Philippines.

“We cannot give in on this, we cannot say that [the area] belongs to China,” says presidential spokesperson, Secretary Ricky Carandang.

One indicator of the impact of the recent deterioration in relations with China is how Manila's Chinatown businesses are doing. In the past month, they’ve taken a hit. The gold dealers and Chinese medicine shops are mostly empty, and the numbers of Chinese visitors have plummeted.

“We lost 65 bookings due to the travel warning from China,” says Bety Ong, operations manager at the Lido Paris hotel in Chinatown. “This has affected our business greatly.” She is a 4th-generation Chinese living in the Philippines and recently visited China. “I flew back here from a visit to Beijing on May 13, the flight was half-empty.”

People to people 

But despite the diplomatic row and naval tensions, it seems people-to-people relations between the 1 million Chinese-Filipinos and the rest of the country's almost 100 million people remain good.

Daisy Gernale-Posadas – who works at the same hotel as Ms. Ong –  says “there is no animosity between us.” The Chinese presence in the Philippines dates to at least the beginning of Spanish rule in the 16th century. Intermarriage with other Filipinos has been common, and there was no local equivalent to the cold war era anti-Chinese pogroms that occurred during that time period in Indonesia and Malaysia.

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