Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Is China's PR effort on SCS dispute effective?

  With barely a week to go before the UNCLOS Arbitration Tribunal gives its verdict on the South China Sea[SCS] dispute, the Chinese authorities have gone on an overdrive to highlight their case on the dispute. But the question remains is anyone listening and is the PR effort having any effect on an international audience that China seeks to influence? While it may be problematical to address this question with any accuracy, there is no hesitation on the part of the Chinese authorities in pushing its soft power to promote its strategic objectives.
*The People's Daily has released on 1 July2016, a series of 10 English language videos on You Tube in which scholars from Malaysia, Singapore and China voice their opinions that largely reflect the Chinese stance.
* CCTV has posted a series of cartoons on its Facebook page, illustrating the history of the South China Sea.
*The Chinese realize that as compared to traditional media channels, the new media outlets have a much larger readership. Since the Facebook platform is open to diverse opinion, it gives the Chinese authorities a chance to assess whether their efforts are indeed influencing the intended targets.
*The Chinese are also hosting a series of seminars in different countries. Recently the Leiden University Grotius Center in conjunction with the Wuhan University Institute for Boundary and Oceanic Studies jointly organized on 26 June 2016 a seminar in which about 30 experts from Asian, African, European countries participated and exchanged views on China's position.
* Similarly another seminar is due to be held in Washington, jointly organized by the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The main purpose of the seminar is to "explore" possibilities together with leading US think-tanks on whether the "disparities" that exist between the US and Chinese positions can be "minimized".
*It is the Chinese assessment that US and Filipino versions of the SCS issue dominate the public discourse. The principal objective of both countries is to "push" the Chinese into a corner by emphasizing that China does not obey International law!
* It is for this reason that the Chinese have been repeatedly propagating that the UNCLOS Tribunal has no jurisdiction and that China will under no circumstances compromise on its sovereignty. This was the line taken by President Xi Jinping in his address to Chinese Communist Party [CCP] members on the 95th anniversary of the founding of the CCP.
*The Chinese have also tried to discredit the high moral ground taken by the US, Japan and Australia by saying that they too have disregarded inconvenient international tribunal rulings. Examples have been prominently publicized.
*Whether the Chinese PR effort will succeed or not was best summed up by one of China's leading internationally recognized scholars, Shen Dengli, when he said that it all depended on whether China was able to present its arguments "reasonably". Nevertheless, he emphasized the need for China to participate even more in the international sphere. In other words, in the coming days we can expect a propaganda blitz from China on this issue.    

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