To China’s outrage, a group of 47 Filipino activists descended Saturday onto an island at the center of the disputed South China Sea.
The Philippines calls this island Pagasa, while China claims it as Zhongye.
The protestors who posted a picture of themselves on the island via Facebook are from the Kalayaan Atin Ito group, according to its spokesperson Joy Ban-eg.
“China has no right to order us or direct us to stay away from our own territory,” Ban-eg said.
China, meanwhile, expressed anger at the move.
“We once again urge the Philippine side to withdraw all its personnel and facilities from the Chinese islands and reefs it is illegally occupying,” said Lu Kang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
The island is home to Filipino civilians and military personnel.
The Taiwanese government also expressed discontent at the demonstration, which it said it “adamantly opposes.” In a statement, the government also referred to the move as “illegal activities.”
Taiwan along with China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam claim parts of the disputed South China Sea.
In recent years, China has reclaimed more than 2,000 acres of land in the South China Sea as it develops artificial islands equipped with airfields, lighthouses and ports.
It claims the surrounding Spratly islands chain as its sovereign territory.
The South China Sea is a strategic and lucrative body of water believed to be rich in resources. Billions of dollars worth of ship-borne goods pass through it each year.