Propaganda: Chinese sharp tool to ‘win without a war’ in the South China Sea

Chinese sharp tool to win without a war in the South China SeaThough it is never said nor written, the Chinese government has invested considerably and consistently in propaganda to push for its nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea, defending and fencing such claims as well as its unlawful and arrogant activities in the South China Sea. China has turned propaganda into a front, or even a “modus operandi” in order to draw favours from the public to support its political, military, diplomatic, legal and field activities relating to sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea. For years Chinese propaganda about the South China Sea, especially the nine-dash line, has become a powerful weapon to help Beijing “acquire territories” in the South China Sea without resorting to war.

In political science, information and communication are crucial, integral parts of the political life of any country both domestically and externally. In China, propaganda plays an even more important role as the Chinese Communist Party is the sole political party leading the country.

China plays the victim in the South China Sea to overturn the truth

China plays the victim in the South China Sea to overturn the truthOn April 3, 2020, during a regular press conference by Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, when asked about the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel following its “encounter” with a Chinese coast guard in the South China Sea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: "On the early morning of April 2, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel, during a routine patrol, spotted a Vietnamese fishing boat illegally fishing in the internal waters off China's Xisha islands and immediately called out to it to leave. The Vietnamese boat refused to leave and suddenly veered sharply towards the Chinese vessel. Despite its best efforts to keep clear, the Coast Guard vessel was struck at the bow. The Vietnamese fishing boat then took in water and sank. The Chinese Coast Guard vessel immediately carried out a rescue operation, and all eight Vietnamese fishermen were rescued without any injuries. The Chinese Coast Guard vessel let the fishermen go after fulfilling necessary investigation and evidence-collection procedures.”

Hua Chunying's comments are essentially blatant fabrications, having been accompanied by China’s absurd claims about their "sovereignty" in the South China Sea in the past.

In truth, at about 3:00 on April 2, 2020, the Quang Ngai fishing vessel number QNg 90617 TS, with 8 crew members onboard, was operating within the waters of the Paracel Islands under Vietnam's sovereignty when it was hit and sunk by a Chinese vessel. Nearby, there were three other Vietnamese fishing vessels, namely the QNg 90929 TS, QNg 90045 TS and QNg 90399 TS who rushed to the sinking vessel’s rescue. The Chinese Coast Guard vessel picked up the QNg 90617 TS crew, then immediately turned to chase the other fishing vessels. The QNg 90929 TS and the QNg 90045 TS were later detained and towed to Woody Island along with all 8 fishermen of the QNg 90617 TS. Around 6:00 pm on April 3, 2020, China transferred the 8 fishermen from QNg 90617 TS to the QNg 90929 TS and the QNg 90045 TS, and then released both the vessels and fishermen.

Propaganda war in the time of Covid-19 epidemic

Propaganda war in the time of Covid-19 epidemicOnce China spread the corona virus around the world and gained initial control of the pandemic at home, Beijing authorities started to launch a disinformation campaign regarding the origin of the said virus. What was strange was that Beijing had mobilized its entire foreign service in this endeavor, stopping at nothing to distribute information of a conspiracy-laden nature.

According to some analysts, the goal of said propaganda campaign is to deny responsibility, libel and direct global hatred towards the US. The campaign was aimed at the US as this was the country with enough power to prevent China’s expansion.

On March 12, 2020, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian commenced this campaign on Twitter by slandering the US military as having brought the corona virus to China, causing a quarrel between the US and China on the issue, which led to the US President calling it the “Chinese virus”.

The latest blow to the US in this campaign came from Paris. In a series of messages on Twitter on March 23, 2020, the Chinese Embassy in France publicly proclaimed that the worldwide havoc-wreaking corona virus actually originated in the US, not from Wuhan (China) as falsely assumed. Such action is considered part of a whole campaign launched by Beijing.

US pushes back on China in South China Sea

US pushes back on China in South China SeaMANILA – While China may have recently stolen a Covid-19 march in the contested South China Sea, the United States is pushing back with a countervailing show of force to underscore its commitment to the maritime region’s security.

In recent weeks, the US has stepped up its naval exercises in the disputed maritime area, including through joint exercises between the US Air Force and Marines in the South China Sea as well as integrated surface vessels and submarine war games in the adjoining Philippine Sea.

In late April, the Pentagon deployed the USS Bunker Hill, the USS America and USS Barry warships to the South China Sea, an exceptional show of force, according to strategic analysts. They were accompanied by the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Parramatta frigate.

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Ignore any new China ADIZ in the South China Sea

Ignore any new China ADIZ in the South China SeaIf China declares a new air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, the world must rally to reject it. What's at stake here is the future of the global economy in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

The ADIZ issue is a newly relevant concern in light of Taiwan's Ministry of Defense statement last week warning of just this possibility. The ADIZ would require civilian and military aircraft entering the zone to radio Chinese military air controllers with their flight plans and requests for transit approval. China has already declared an ADIZ in the East China Sea. As with that ADIZ, China would hope that the new zone buys practical formality for its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

While its claims are quite laughable, Beijing has already appointed itself the owner of vast areas of the sea, demanding that foreign nations avoid transiting through the waters without first seeking its permission. Contrary to China's lie that it only seeks friendship with all nations, this territorial seizure campaign aims to extract political deference from regional nations and global trading powers in return for transit rights. And considering that the South China Sea accounts for trillions of dollars in annual trade, this is a big deal.

But there are ways to obstruct China's imperial agenda.

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China isolates itself by defying international law in East Sea

China isolates itself by defying international law in East SeaLast month, the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs announced the renaming of dozens of islands and reefs in the East Sea, including some located deep inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. It also announced the establishment of what it calls the “Xisha” and “Nansha” districts of Sansha city to administer the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos, both of which are under Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea.

These actions have received strong condemnation from Vietnam and the rest of the world. From a world affairs perspective, they demonstrate China’s hegemonic ambition and defiance of international law and threaten regional security, peace, and stability.

Old wine in a new bottle

Beijing’s “Four Sha” plan is really just a variation of the “nine-dash line” which was rejected by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016. No entity in the so-called “Xisha” is defined as an island by Appendix 7 of the Court’s ruling in the lawsuit against China filed by the Philippines. Similarly, what China calls Zhongsha Islands (Macclesfield Bank) are a sunken atoll of underwater reefs.

It is unpersuasive for China to claim sovereignty over the sea, including an exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, or to draw baselines around the entities in “Four Sha”. Some features that might be considered rocks or similar structures, and are submerged during high tide may have been occupied or are located within the exclusive economic zone of neighboring coastal states.

So, China's recent announcements in no way reinforce its baseless sovereignty claims in the East Sea. In essence, the “Four Sha” strategy is just an extension of the nine-dash line map that China often draws on the East Sea to suggest ownership of the area. But there are many major legal loopholes in Beijing’s claim.

Self-isolating, destabilizing strategy

With the world battling COVID-19, Beijing has taken advantage of the pandemic to assert its domination of structures and waters in the East Sea. Its actions are destabilizing the region and undermining negotiations for a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC). It is also tarnishing China’s image.

Observers say that China’s attempts to create a new reality in the East Sea reveals a lack of respect for international law and the legitimate claims of its neighbors in the region.

By violating international law, China is undermining its reputation. As one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China should contribute responsibly to resolving East Sea disputes on the basis of international law and ensuring peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately, this seems too much to ask, and world is still waiting for a show of goodwill from China.

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China’s military capabilities and the new geopolitics

China mil capabilitiesDiscussion of Chinese intentions inevitably draws attention to the pronounced buildup of naval weaponry in recent years, with each year bringing fresh confirmation of China’s ability to leapfrog existing assessments of the size of its navy. Thus, in April 2020, China constructed a second Type 075 warship, a class designed to compete in amphibious capability with the American Wasp class ships. Two more are anticipated, as are two more aircraft carriers. These are clearly designed to match American warships, and raise interest in China’s ability to sustain distant interest by sea, most obviously in the Indian Ocean, but also wherever Chinese geopolitical concerns may be favored by naval power projection. Areas where China has maritime interests include not only the South-West Pacific, where it has been actively developing alliance partnerships, much to the disquiet of Australia, but also the Caribbean. Moreover, Chinese maritime partners include Equatorial Guinea. So, the notion that China might automatically “limit” itself to dominating a “near China,” of the East and South China Seas is implausible. Even were that to be the goal, the need to prevent external intervention in that dominance, intervention most obviously by the American and Japanese navies, but also by that of Australia, would require a greater range of naval activity in terms of “access denial.” It was that principle that led the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the modern counterparts would be seeking to thwart the use of Guam and to block chokepoints of naval access.

This approach presupposes that the Chinese wish for war, which is highly unlikely, but any policy inherently requires planning for the possibility of conflict, and that is true of the Chinese as well as for their possible opponents. Of course, that brings with it the danger that preparing for conflict might actually help precipitate it.

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Vietnam's note berbale on the South China Sea

Malaysia’s recent submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has triggered a note-verbale debate between claimants in the South China Sea. After China and the Philippines, Vietnam is the latest to join the debate with a note to protest not only Malaysia’s claims, but China’s as well.

Vietnam’s note verbale, dated March 30, 2020, concisely explains Vietnam’s positions in legal terms which are compatible with the key findings of the 2016 South China Sea arbitration award. The note objects to China’s historic rights in the South China Sea and any other maritime claims that exceed the limits provided in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It also opposes the “four shas” doctrine, a Chinese endeavor to claim maritime zones from four groups of islands in the South China Sea as if they were each a single entity. But most interestingly, the note seems to indicate, for the first time, an official Vietnamese position on the legal status of all high-tide features in both the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

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China’s "nine-dash line" in the South China Sea is challenging a “win-win” outcome

9 dash lineIn 2009, China’s "nine-dash line" map in the South China Sea was made public to the world for the first time, reflecting Beijing's official stand on maritime boundary and accordingly, China’s ambitious claim. Almost immediately, many experts, scholars as well as politicians, regional and non-regional alike, even those in China, commented that the "nine-dash line" was too vague and unreasonable, as it ran too close to many neighboring countries’ coastlines, covering an area that accounted for more than 80% of the South China Sea, penetrating the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of most Southeast Asian countries. At the same time, the line has seriously violated the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982). Since then, attendants in many international conferences on the sea or East Sea have shared that China's "nine-dash line" was an illogical and unacceptable border concept. As a result, there has been a surge of interest in the origin of the dotted worm-like claim which caused such a controversy, and curiosity as of those who have made it public and recognized it, so China could insist that the line had been there “since ages”, and it was "indisputable" and undoubtedly China’s "natural sovereignty".

Upon studying, researchers found the “nine-dash line" to be of no ancient history, and had nothing to do with the conquest and borders expansion by generations of Chinese feudal empires. This line was neither designed nor planned by the government of the People's Republic of China. It turned out that such line was the brainchild of Chen Sun, a Navy Colonel under the Republic of China (ROC) Government. He came up with the claim back in October 1946, while he was commanding a naval fleet to take over islands in the South China Sea occupied by the Japanese during World War II and now returned to the Allies. Next, based on Chen’s report alone, the Interior Ministry of the ROC drew up a map consisting 11 dotted lines surrounding these islands in the South China Sea, but only for "internal circulation" purpose.

China plays divide and rule in South China Sea

USS-America-South-China-Sea-April-2020JAKARTA – Chinese propagandists have had a field day with a violent incident in the South China Sea which for once didn’t involve its own aggression.

On April 20, an intruding Vietnamese fishing boat capsized and sank with the loss of four lives after repeatedly trying to ram an Indonesian patrol craft.

Two other Vietnamese vessels and their crews were detained in the encounter west of the Natuna Islands. The incident had not been made public for a week as the two Southeast Asian neighbors sought to smooth the situation through diplomatic channels.

Both appear aware that China has sought to exacerbate the episode through social media, part of its divide and conquer strategy aimed at the four Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members bordering on the contested South China Sea.

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New South China Sea tensions rattle Manila and Hanoi amid pandemic

PandemicMANILA -- While sailing toward the Philippine-occupied Commodore Reef in the South China Sea, a Philippine Navy vessel spotted a gray ship and made radio contact. The response was blunt.

"The Chinese government has immutable sovereignty over the South China Sea, its islands and its adjacent waters."

The gray ship belonging China's People's Liberation Army Navy directed its fire control radar at the Philippine vessel, indicating "hostile intent," according to the Philippine Navy.

The encounter, which ended peacefully and was belatedly disclosed by the Philippine government on Thursday, took place on Feb. 17 while the coronavirus crisis was engulfing China. But as Southeast Asian nations fight widening outbreaks of their own, observers say Beijing has renewed efforts to consolidate its control over disputed parts of the South China Sea, ratcheting up tensions among rival claimants.

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