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China Extends Propaganda Efforts Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

A Chinese tour guide is leading a group of tourists in the central city of Da Nang. Photo credit: VnExpress

A Chinese tour guide is leading a group of tourists in the central city of Da Nang. (VnExpress)

Ahead of an expected unfavorable ruling for China over its maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea, in an international court case filed by Manila at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Beijing has been rallying both international and domestic support to their cause.  

Internationally, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry claimed the support of more than 40 nations last month in its boycott of the ruling, while Chinese state media declared almost 60 this past week.  Only 8 of these countries have expressed public support and 5 on the list of supporters have even denied backing the boycott.

On the domestic front, state-owned China Central Television (CCTV) ran a video on June 21 to highlight Beijing’s argument, hoping to propel domestic support. The video, sanctioned by the Chinese Central Propaganda Department, was shared by CCTV on Weibo, China’s widely popular microblogging site.

And in a more concealed ploy, a “friend of the court” brief was submitted by a legal organization called the “Asia-Pacific Institute of International Law” (APIIL) in Hong Kong.  APIIL was only registered in Hong Kong a mere two months ago, has no website or public contact information, and is run by its chairman, Daniel Fung.  Fung is a delegate to the Communist Party-led Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing.  Aligned with Beijing’s official position, the brief calls into question the PCA’s jurisdiction in the ruling over the disputed maritime territories, citing “factual and legal errors” in the case.

But the propaganda wars do not end there, as domestic Chinese tourists are now being indoctrinated to the South China Sea disputes. More than 10,000 tourists have taken a cruise ship to the Paracel island chain, which are in dispute with Vietnam. And this week, government authorities in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang are accusing some 60 Chinese tour guides of operating illegally in this popular tourist city and providing incorrect information about Vietnam’s history to tourists.  Many of the Chinese tour guides are employed by Chinese tour guides who hire a Vietnamese director to act as a front.  

Local Vietnamese guides, who find themselves competing for the tourists, have submitted photos and videos as proof to the Da Nang Tourism Department.  One Vietnamese tour guide has accused the illegal Chinese tour guides of even referring to the shores off Da Nang’s beach as part of China’s territory.

Beijing’s efforts to rally support ahead of the ruling in The Hague will not do much to change the eventual outcome, and could backfire internationally as well as domestically.  Internationally, the efforts are perceived as a failure – attempting to usurp international rule of law by uniting politically weak and economically challenged nations to its cause, with other nations calling out China for never having pledged support.

For its domestic audience, the stakes are higher.  Rallying patriotic support ahead of an expected unfavorable —and could easily backfire should Beijing lose and fail to respond in an adequate “face saving” fashion.   



Gary Sands

Gary Sands is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a Director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Washington Times, The Diplomat, The National Interest, International Policy Digest, Asia Times, EurasiaNet, Eurasia Review, Indo-Pacific Review, the South China Morning Post, and the Global Times. He was previously employed in lending and advisory roles at Shell Capital, ABB Structured Finance, and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He earned his Masters of Business Administration in International Business from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a Bachelor of Science in Finance at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. He spent six years in Shanghai from 2006-2012, four years in Rio de Janeiro, and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Twitter@ForeignDevil666