Banners calling the Philippines a “province of China” appeared on bridges across Manila on the second anniversary of the UN’s ruling on South China Sea sovereignty.
The terms “province of China” and “South China Sea” trended across social media and dominated news reports following the appearance of the tarpaulin banners today (Thursday, July 12).
No group has claimed responsibility for the signs, which feature English and Chinese characters and a Chinese flag flanked by dragons. City authorities were seen removing some of them, which were spotted in at least five locations.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled two years ago today that China had no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea and it had breached the Manila’s sovereign rights by blocking its fishermen and building artificial islands.
Taking to Twitter, Florin Hilbay, the former solicitor general and the country’s lead lawyer at the tribunal, simply wrote: “NOT FUNNY”.
Some users accused the political opposition of making the signs to discredit President Duterte’s warming ties with China.
Other chided the government for not challenging China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. “This is too much. The country was sold off,” one Facebook user said.
The two countries have a bitter history of disputes over maritime sovereignty, but President Duterte, who took office just weeks before the Hague ruling, has taken a more conciliatory approach, with an eye to increasing Chinese loans, trade and investments.
The president often lavishes praise Chinese leader Xi Jinping and in February ruffled feathers when he jokingly offered the Philippines to Beijing as a province of China.
Presidential spokesman, Harry Roque, called the banners “absurd” and said it was likely that the government’s political enemies were responsible for them.
China’s foreign ministry has not made any comment on the issue.
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