China told its citizens yesterday they were not safe in the Philippines and state media warned of war, as a month long row over rival claims in the South China Sea threatened to spin out of control.
Chinese travel agencies announced they had suspended tours to the Philippines and the Chinese embassy in Manila advised nationals already in the country to stay indoors ahead of planned anti-China protests.
“Avoid going out at all if possible and if not, avoid going out alone. If you come across any demonstrations, leave the area, do not stay to watch,” the embassy’s advisory said.
The safety alerts came as media in China warned the country was prepared to go to war to end the stand-off over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea that both nations claim as their own and which is also claimed by Taiwan, where it is known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島)
“No matter how willing we are to discuss the issue, the current Philippine leadership is intent on pressing us into a corner where there is no other option left but the use of arms,” the China Daily said in an editorial.
“Since ancient times, our nation has deemed war the last resort in handling state-to-state relations, but Manila is living in a fantasy world if it mistakes our forbearance for timidity,” it added.
The two nations have had non-military vessels stationed at the shoal since April 8 in an effort to assert their sovereignty over the area.
The Philippines insists its claims to the area are backed by international law, because the shoal is well within its 200 nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone.
However, China claims virtually all of the South China Sea as its territory, even waters close to the coasts of the Philippines and other Asian countries.
The Philippines has repeatedly said it wants to solve the stand-off over the shoal through diplomatic means, but it has also said it secured a pledge from the US, its main military ally, to protect the Philippines from attacks in the South China Sea.
A coalition of Filipino activist groups is planning to hold rallies at Chinese embassies around the world today to support the Philippines in the dispute.
Organizers are hoping thousands of people will attend what they expect to be the biggest of the rallies, in Manila, and the Chinese embassy’s safety alert was circulated chiefly to warn its nationals about that protest.
Meanwhile, Taiwan has advised its citizens in the Philippines to pay particular attention to their personal safety.
Taiwan’s representative office in the Philippines said in an advisory on Wednesday that Taiwanese expatriates should be careful during the protests because Taipei and Manila also contest sovereignty over the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙島), also in the South China Sea.
Furthermore, Filipinos might not be able to distinguish between Taiwanese and Chinese, the office said, urging Taiwanese to seek help from the office if necessary.
The advisory letter has been sent by fax or e-mail to Taiwanese chambers of commerce and expatriate groups in the Philippines, the office said.
Additional reporting by CNA