Media disinformation: Understand South China Sea standoff through the Filipino media

China is now Australia’s largest trading partner. Western Australia’s Premier is right to point out that: “… of the 60,000 new jobs created in Australia over the past 12 months, 50,000 were in WA, which now accounted for 70 per cent of the nation's exports to China … To some extent, the strength of the WA economy is concealing the true weakness of the national economy.” Therefore, it is in Australia national interest that our policy makers are able to understand China in an objective manner. I hope that the following article will contribute to such an objective.

The recent standoff between China and the Philippines in South China Sea has against provided an opportunity for China bashers to assert their personal opinion as news. The terrifying sound of China’s threat and aggression has once again filled the news media with creative headlines: ‘China stirs up trouble with Philippines’ (The Guardian) and  ‘China maintains tough line on the Philippines’ (Wall Street Journal), just to name a couple.

There are also voices that portray China as a bully: ‘How to outsmart China’ (Foreign Policy) and ‘David against Goliath on the South China Sea’ (Fox News), etc..

The standoff also provides the opportunity for the Americans to justify their re-entry into the Asia Pacific Region with news headlines such as: ‘China tensions spur deeper ties between U.S., Philippines’ (Washington Times); Beijing makes Manila miss its U.S. Bases (Wall Street Journal), and U.S. reaffirms defense of Philippines in standoff with China (New York Times).

The voices of the Taiwanese have often been ignored by the mainstream Western media:  ‘Taiwan should cooperate with China on South China Sea: experts’ (Focus Taiwan); ‘Mutual defence of the sea is not cross-strait military cooperation’ (The Korean Herald); and earlier reports by the Philippines Media (ABS-CBN) before the stand-off: ‘Taiwan Protests over Philippines plan for Spratly’ and ‘Philippines unfazed by Taiwan Spratlys missile plan’. This is perhaps due to the fact that if Taiwan – a territory that shares a common history and culture with mainland China - was apparently co-operating with China over the disputes with the Philippines, it may be harder to promote the inter-media agenda of an aggressive China.

When China issued a warning to the Philippines that: ‘China is fully prepared to respond to anything Philippines does’ (Xin Hua Net), the Western media creatively turned the story to ‘China bangs the war drum over South China Sea’ (BBC).

While rallies by the Filipinos against China have been widely reported in the West such as: ‘Filipinos Rally Against China's Claim to Shoal’ (New York Times) and ‘Demonstrators in Manila protest China’s stance over disputed lagoon’ (CNN) - with one sided story; the rally against the Philippines by Chinese living in America has gone unnoticed.

The news that China de-escalates the situation by withdrawing two law enforcement vessels on 24 April 2012, while the Philippines has increased its presence by adding additional vessel (Hong Kong Chinese language news) were again ignored by the mainstream media.

The reality is, the Chinese side of the story has often either been totally ignored, or if reported, the credibility of their claims will be deeply discounted through the frequent use of such phrases: “Communist party controlled media” or “government mouth piece”. 

On May 14, The Globe And Mail, Canadian National Newspaper, published an editorial titled “Overreach on Reefs”, which took sides and made untenable argument over the dispute on behalf of The Philippines. The People Daily Ottawa-based chief correspondent, Xuejiang Li sent a rebuttal commentary to the editor of the Globe and Mail offering another side of the story. But to his regret, the newspaper declined to published his comment. This is the full text of Mr. Li’s article.

It is therefore, very difficult to present China’s side of the story with a sense of credibility. Thanks to our so-called Western soft-power - many western readers have been subjected to decades of brain washing by their media against China and it is not easy to change people’s perception of China overnight.

To overcome such prejudicial effect against China, I decided to seek help from the Filipinos and their media.

The following are what the Filipinos and their media say about the standoff

Unlike the selective nature of the mainstream media in the West, there are diverse views on the issue amongst the Filipinos within and outside the Philippines.  There were strong calls for all Filipinos to protest against China across the world on 11 May 2012. However, the overall responses were a misery with only 200 protestors in Manila, 150 in San Francisco and 100 in New York.

The reason is, many Filipinos are in opposition of their President’s behaviour in the standoff saga and worried about the possible return of the American military. Their voices are so powerful that,  the Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario had to publicly call for patriotism. Some Philippines writers went to the extent to  describe their mainstream and social media as “Quislings” (meaning traitors).

There are also radical and unfound allegations against China in the Philippines media. However, the misinformation has been effectively neutralised by alternative voices such as a call for information clearing house to promote accurate information.

The Filipinos’ resentment against the Americans (their former colonial master) is overwhelming. When Hillary Clinton visited the Philippines in November 2011, she was greeted with protests; when the Americans involved themselves in the standoff with a joint military exercise with Philippines under the code name ‘Balikatan’, a group of Filipinos Americans and  other Americans staged a surprise “anti-Balikatan protest” inside the Philippines consulate in New York.

There are also calls by the Filipinos to “push away the US interventionist”, and alleged that the American “exploiting” the situation. Some claim that, there will be “no peaceful settlement” with the American involvement. In short, there is a rising anti-Americanism in the Philippines. Unfortunately, like the Chinese, these Filipinos have no voice in the mainstream western media as well.

While the western media habitually portrays China as a bully and aggressor in any international dispute, the Filipinos have objectively pointed out that by “deploying a warship to confront the Chinese fishermen,” their president, Mr. Aquino, “made the Philippines the party militarizing the dispute.” Some Philippines lawmakers also added their voices calling for diplomacy. According to one of the  lawmakers, Walden Bello: “China is very sensitive to territorial boundaries though it is not expansionist. Firm assertion of our rights along with flexible diplomacy is the best way to deal with her.” The Moro Islamic Liberation Front while appealed to China to exercise restraint, also called upon the “Aquino administration to restrain the radical elements in his government from making provocative statements against Beijing.”

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago while preparing to “file a resolution before the Senate that will assert the territorial claim of the Philippines,” is worried that putting the case to an International tribunal “would take a toll on the Philippines claim.” Santiago said that “bringing the maritime dispute before an arbitrary or even special arbitrary tribunal would also mean that a party will have to accept the decision without any appeal.” While contemplating the idea of a joint exploration with China, Senator Santiago worries that the Philippines is “lagging in sea technology”.  The Senator doesn’t believe that China is bullying the Philippines.

Mr. Victor N Arches II, a retired Filipino banker and economist, who loves to dabble in history and political science, wrote an article to acknowledge that: “The Scarborough Shoal does belong to China which discovered it and drew it in a map as early as 1279 during the Yuan Dynasty … In the late 1970s, China organized many scientific expeditions in the Shoal and around that area.  In fact, in 1980, a stone marker reading “South China Sea Scientific Expedition” was installed by China on the South Rock.  This Chinese marker was removed, without authority, by the Philippines in 1997.”

Associate Professor Shankari Sundararaman, at the School of International Studies, JNU also presented his view with an article and acknowledges that: “China has a 1,000-year-old history of domination over Southeast Asia. Their assertion is also based on the fact that the region was discovered when Chinese power was at its height. In fact, Premier Zhou Enlai said that the South China Sea was a “core interest”.”

The truth is, the Philippines has never made any claim over those disputed islands until the 1990s (Book: ‘World Conflicts’ 1998 by Patrick Brogan, pg. 265).

Despite the Philippines government making threat to file a unilateral complaint to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the threat was dismissed by the Fishers Alliance as: “just one of those run-of-the-mill press releases issued by the President’s propaganda and media team,” and slammed the U.S. as the “no.1 terrorist nation … the biggest violator of Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The Philippines media ABS-CBN published an article by Yi Ping, Peking University School of Law outlining the reasons on why the “Philippines lacks the legal ground to go to the International tribunal”.

Many Filipinos are hoping for a negotiated win-win solution with China.  Acting Mayor Rodrigo Duterte believes that: “the joint venture between China and the Philippines on the contested areas could have been mutually acceptable but now, it is marred by the perceived entry of the US through its oil exploration firms.”

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, a columnist, while condemning the Aquino government and the American military, also believes that the disputes can be settled through “mutual respect and benefit.”  

An article in the Beijing Review points out that, China’s restraints in South China Sea resulted in “small countries bullying a big country.” The author also points out that,  “Prior to 1997, the Philippines had no objection to the Chinese Government’s exercise of sovereign administration, development and exploitation of the Huangyan Island. Instead, it expressed on many occasions that the island is outside the scope of the Philippine territory. On official Philippine maps published in 1981 and 1984, the island is also marked outside Philippines territorial limits.”


It is unfortunately that the truth can never be found in the mainstream Western media. So much hatred, negativity, misunderstanding and conflicts across the world could have been avoided if people were not deprived the right to know the truth.  The illegal invasion of Iraq could have been stopped if the voices of the UN weapon inspector Scott Ritter, and Senior Australian Intelligence Officer Andrew Wilkie could be heard internationally through the Western media with the kind of zeal they used against China before the invasion.  Millions of lives in peril could have been avoided and millions in misery and displacement could also have been avoided if the media could uphold the ethics of Journalism before the illegal war. Censorship may be a crime but selective reporting with the intention to mislead the public is a crime worse than censorship.

Despite the American territory’s claims on another end of the world such as the so-called American Samoa, and the British claims on Falkland Island (12,700km or 7,920 miles away from UK), their media seems to use the distance between China and the disputed island to dismiss China claims. Just a couple of examples, in the UK, BBC put the distance from China at 500 miles; The Guardian at 1,200 km; whereas, in the U.S., Fox News put the distance at 700 miles; and Foreign Policy use 48 hours for the ship from China to arrive as a way to describe the distance. These coordinated behaviour across the mainstream western media appears to fall in line with my earlier analysis:  ‘How Rumour Journalism works’.


Written by:

Wei Ling Chua

Accredited INS and ANFS Freelance Journalist

Independent Researcher of Media Disinformation





Thank you for what the ancient Egyptians called, ma' at - a proper balance.