A three-minute propaganda video promoting Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea has begun playing in New York City’s Times Square, raising immediate objections from a British politician who says she was deliberately misquoted in the film.
China Daily describes the video as showcasing “the beauty of South China Sea and the Nanhai Zhudao” and detailing the “history of the region” before stressing that China “is the first to have discovered, named, explored and exploited the islands and relevant waters.”
“Whether in terms of historical or legal perspective, China is the only true owner of the Nansha Islands,” Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute of South China Sea Studies, says in the video.
Besides Wu, the film also features other Chinese and foreign experts, including John Ross, former policy director of Economic and Business Policy of London, and Catherine West, shadow secretary of state and foreign affairs of the British Labor Party.
The video describes China’s indisputable sovereignty over Nanhai Zhudao (the sea’s islands), saying it has historical and legal basis and disputes the unilaterally initiated arbitration by the Philippines.
The video pushes Beijing’s position of disregarding the recent international court ruling against it, in favor of “dual-track” negotiations between China and the individual nations with competing South China Sea claims. The Hague ruling explicitly rejected the argument about China’s “historic” ownership of the entire region promoted by the video. Conveniently for China, neither one of the dual tracks in the “dual track” approach runs through the Hague or Washington D.C.
“The film first appeared in Times Square on July 23, and will be played 120 times a day until Aug 3,” China Daily reports.
According to The Shanghaiist, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency has been leasing a “massive block of the screens in Times Square” since 2011, “promoting itself and China’s attractions with advertisements,” at a cost of somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 per month.
Among the non-Chinese talking heads appearing in the video is Catherine West, a Labour member of the U.K. Parliament, who is quoted saying, “I think talks are crucial. And that’s why we have to be careful that yes, we need to resolve something very locally, and have a grown-up approach to dialogue.”
West told Quartz.com via email that she was not consulted about appearing in the Chinese propaganda film, and she is “perplexed and concerned by its assertions” because her comment was taken out of context and twisted to support Beijing’s position.
“Although I was of course happy to give an interview on my concerns regarding the militarisation of the South China Sea and the need to work together to secure a peaceful resolution, I am not happy for the footage to be used in a way that suggests that I support the current approach adopted by China towards these islands,” West wrote.
“I would hope my parliamentary record has demonstrated that I have consistently raised concern over Chinese island-building and military deployment in the South China Sea, and indeed I have urged the UK Government to do all it can to ensure international law is upheld and that the region is stabilised for all parties concerned,” she continued.
She also noted the video gives her an incorrect title — she was Shadow Foreign Minister for the Asia-Pacific Region when she attended a forum in Beijing last May, not “Shadow Foreign Secretary,” as the video claims.
The video seems to be having the effect Beijing desired on at least some viewers. China Daily quotes Boston photographer Patrick Joyce saying he felt “educated about the issue after seeing the clip, especially about China’s standpoint.”
“It’s a good decision for the country to try resolving the dispute peacefully, and I appreciate the U.S.’ decision to remain impartial on this issue,” Joyce added.