China begins disinformation campaign post-South China Sea verdict

Hong Kong, July 22 : Media observers in Hong Kong have noticed a palpable uptick in Chinese propaganda aimed at discrediting the South China Sea verdict delivered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague on July 12th. The Chinese Foreign Ministry and state media are being blamed for attributing statements supportive of Beijing's claims to various South East Asian countries, which later turn out to be false. Chinese state media had reported a week ago that Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, during his meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the ASEM meeting in Mongolia, had conveyed that he "respects" China's position on the South China Sea arbitration. The news item added that the Vietnamese Prime Minister had instead conveyed that the two sides should seriously implement agreements between senior leaders of both countries, including the agreement on the basic principles guiding the settlement of the issues at sea, signed in October 2011. The news report mentioned above was a manufactured story, with Vietnam's state news agency saying Vietnam, "Declares it refutes untruthful coverage by Chinese media regarding the East Sea issue from the meeting." The statement contained Vietnam's preferred term for the South China Sea...The East Sea. This is not the first instance of Chinese disinformation regarding the South China Sea issue. In April this year, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, after a visit to Brunei, Cambodia and Laos, had claimed that all three countries had agreed to a four-point consensus, which included concurrence with China's approach in settling the South China Sea dispute. While Brunei and Laos have not publicly reacted to their so-called support to the Chinese line, diplomats of Brunei in Beijing have confirmed that no such consensus was reached between the foreign ministers of China and Brunei. Sri Lanka too has not been spared by China's "stretching of the truth". According to a Bloomberg report, China's Foreign Ministry said July 9 that Sri Lanka "understands and applauds" China's stance on the waterway, citing a meeting between the countries' foreign ministers in Colombo. But Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in an interview in Singapore on Sunday that the use of "applaud" was not correct. "We understood, I think they just corrected to say we understood." Meanwhile, post the South China Sea verdict by the PCA in The Hague, diplomatic relations between The Philippines and China has been considerably strained with Philippines Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay turning down a Chinese proposal to start bilateral talks between the two nations. According to The Philippines, the Chinese had inserted a rider on the meeting that the bilateral meet would not discuss the recent verdict on the South China Sea, which turned out to be unacceptable to The Philippines. China's attempt at imposing its will on ASEAN stakeholders is being met with stiff opposition, say media observers in Hong Kong, and will lead to China's further isolation in the region. "By pushing these countries into the U.S. strategic embrace, it will only be causing lasting and long-term damage to its own interests in the region," said one media observer, who wished to remain unnamed in this report for fear of reprisal by the Chinese authorities.