South China Sea: Filipino protesters land on disputed island

Pagasa island in the South China Sea
Image caption The island of Pagasa in the South China Sea is controlled by the Philippines

Protesters have landed on a remote Philippine-controlled island in the disputed South China Sea.

About 50 Filipinos, mostly students, reached Pagasa in the Spratly archipelago on Saturday, saying they planned to stay for three days.

They say they want to highlight growing Chinese encroachment in a Philippine exclusive economic zone.

China claims almost all the South China Sea, believed to be rich in resources, dismissing rival claims by neighbours.

Apart from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam all lay claim to the disputed waters.

The group is expected to leave the island on Monday.

Flying close to China's new islands

Tension has intensified over the last year, fuelled by China's aggressive island-building and naval patrols and the area has also seen the US and Australia undertaking freedom of navigation operations.

A recent BBC investigation witnessed at close quarters China's construction of new islands on coral reefs in the area and was repeatedly warned off by Chinese authorities while on a civilian flight in the vicinity of the islands.

The Filipino group, led by a former naval commander and called Kalayaan Atin Ito (Kalayaan This Is Ours) described the journey as a "patriotic" voyage and a symbolic act of defiance against China.

The Philippine government said it understood the group's intentions but opposed the voyage on safety and security grounds - the protesters sailed 500km (310 miles) through contested seas to the tiny island.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Filipino activists have protested outside Chinese consular offices in Manila over China's construction activities

The Philippines has a case challenging Beijing before the arbitration court in The Hague. It says the "nine-dash line", which China uses to demarcate its territorial claims, is unlawful under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both countries have signed.

China has boycotted the proceedings, insisting that the panel has no authority to rule in the case.

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