MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Hundreds of people in the Philippine capital protested Wednesday against China's claims to much of the vast South China Sea, saying Beijing's intrusions into other countries' territories would tarnish its image as it becomes a world power.

Waving Philippine flags and blowing horns, the protesters massed in front of a building housing the Chinese consulate in Manila, blocking noontime traffic. The Chinese consulate closed its visa office due to the protest.

Anti-riot police closely watched the crowd of about 500, which sang nationalist songs, yelled anti-China slogans and held up placards that read: "China stop bullying" and "China get out of the West Philippine Sea."

The West Philippine Sea is a new name the Philippine government has adopted for the disputed body of water that has been the site of recent confrontations involving Chinese military and civilian surveillance ships and those from the Philippines and Vietnam.

Six governments — China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan — lay claim to disputed territories in the sea, which is home to busy shipping lanes and is potentially rich in oil and gas deposits. Many fear the disputes could eventually spark Asia's next major armed conflict.

Washington has declared that the peaceful resolution of the disputes and freedom of navigation in the disputed waters are in the U.S. national interest.

A small group of Vietnamese joined in Wednesday's protest in Manila, waving an anti-China banner. They said they could not easily stage protests in their country because of state restrictions on such public assemblies.

"I take this as a golden chance to be here and to raise our voice," said 24-year-old Ngo Van Kha, who is from Hanoi. "We Vietnamese like to stand beside you in this struggle against an aggressive China."

Also taking part in the rally was former Philippine Interior Secretary Raffy Alunan, who said Beijing's aggressive claims have brought it bad publicity and led to a U.S. decision to reassert its presence in Asia.

"It's important for China to understand that if it is not seen as a troublemaker and seen as a country that is out to dominate other nations, effects like the (U.S.) Asian pivot and the building of coalitions to deal with China on territorial disputes will not be happening, including our protest," Alunan said.

The protesters were divided on whether the U.S. military should be allowed to reassert a greater presence in Asia.

"In our struggle against China's expansionism, we're batting not for a return to the embrace of the U.S., but an independent and truly pro-Filipino foreign policy," said Risa Hontiveros of the left-wing Akbayan group.

Henry Samonte, a former commercial pilot who joined the protest wearing huge placards that read "China go home," said the Philippines was too poor to modernize its anemic military and could only invite foreign powers to fill the power vacuum in an Asia that's currently dominated by China.