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Chinese media pushes narrative of ‘Philippines as aggressor’
Published on: Sunday, June 09, 2024
By: Philstar
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Chinese media pushes narrative of ‘Philippines as aggressor’
A relentless months-long campaign by Chinese state media to depict the Philippines as the aggressor in the South China Sea preceded the viral spread of the ‘deepfake’ audio of Marcos allegedly ordering an attack on China. (Pic: PhilStar)
MANILA: Chinese state media have routinely portrayed the Philippines as a provocative and aggressive country in the West Philippine Sea following the private meeting between former President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping in July 2023, with most articles published right after an altercation between the two countries in the tense waterways. 

Every month since August 2023, the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus has published news articles or editorials that claim the Philippines was “stirring up trouble” or “making provocations at sea,” typically hours or days after Chinese vessels block or attack much smaller Filipino boats. 

Philstar.com’s monitoring over nine months found more than 60 such articles and/or statements from media outfits owned or associated with the Chinese government.

Most statements are published by People’s Daily and The Global Times, newspapers controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

While local media and influencers targeting Filipinos have not echoed this narrative on the same scale, there appeared to be a recent attempt to sow confusion among Filipinos over whether the Philippines was an aggressor. This was done through the recently viral “deepfake” audio of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. supposedly ordering the military to attack China – the origins of which remain unknown but is believed to have come from a foreign source. 

Besides framing the Philippines as an instigator, Chinese social media influencers and anonymous accounts have also pounced on the Duterte-led Mindanao independence campaign in the Philippines to spread rumours of an all-out civil war in the country. 

These articles have some of the markings of an influence operation that Philstar.com is tracking across all social media platforms, groups and spaces on the internet.

In July 2023, the Philippine government issued a statement commemorating the seventh anniversary of the 2016 Hague ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea. The Department of Foreign Affairs called the ruling a “settled landmark” and a “shining beacon of internal law practice.” 

China, which has never accepted the arbitral decision, said in a report by the Global Times that this was a “strikingly different” statement from the Philippines. Citing “experts,” the report said that the wording used by the Philippines showed the country was “growing tougher in its stance.” 

Exactly a week after the publication of the statement, Duterte met with Xi behind closed doors, where Duterte reportedly expressed support for “friendlier” Philippines-China relations, according to a Global Times report. 

Thus began the pattern. For almost a year, every time Chinese vessels block or attack a Philippine vessel in the West Philippine Sea, usually during resupply missions to the Ayungin Shoal, Chinese state media would quote Chinese officials who have concluded that Philippine vessels’ “aggressive actions” and “dangerous manoeuvres” provoked Chinese vessels to respond.

The pattern was observed first in August 2023 when Chinese Coast Guard vessels shot water cannons at PCG during a resupply mission for military troops in Ayungin Shoal.

A day after the incident, People’s Daily Online published an article quoting Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Chinese ministry of national defense, who said that the Philippines must “cease provocation” and that they will continue to safeguard their territory.

This pattern was repeated seven times more monthly from September to March, where encounters between Chinese and Philippine vessels were attributed to the Philippines’ “dangerous provocations” at sea.   

In December, a wider network of Chinese state media and Facebook pages amplified the narrative that the Philippines often provoked Chinese vessels in the tense waterways, thus reaching a larger audience. 

In two separate incidents on December 9 and 10, the CCG and the Chinese Maritime Militia fired water cannons at Philippine vessels resupplying Filipino fishers and the anchored BRP Sierra Madre.

In one of its most aggressive maneuvers in 2023, on December 9, Chinese Coast Guard vessels repeatedly fired three Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessels with water cannon blasts. Suspected militia ships also reportedly used painful sound blasts that temporarily affected Filipino crew members’ hearing. 

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