China in propaganda overdrive ahead of South China Sea ruling

CSIS: China cares about its international image
CSIS: China cares about its international image

Days ahead of a ruling by an international tribunal on the Philippines' case against China over disputes in the South China Sea, the East Asian giant has stepped up rhetoric on all fronts to push its side of the story.

From official pronouncements to press editorials, China's propaganda machine has gone into overdrive.

Most recently, state-run news agency Xinhua reported a call between Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and U.S. secretary of state John Kerry on Wednesday during which Wang repeated China's rejection of The Hague's jurisdiction over the territorial claims.

The State Department confirmed the call, Reuters reported.

Former foreign affairs official Dai Bingguo also expounded on the issue--with similar arguments--in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

That's on top of numerous meetings with diplomats and journalists, as well as the lobbying individual countries—even those with no stake in the disputed territories including Belarus and Pakistan.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea -- a vast tract of water through which a huge chunk of global shipping passes. The Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have competing claims to parts
Greg Baker | AFP | Getty Images

Control of the region is valuable because more than $5 trillion worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea each year, and China has been accused of ramping up tensions over control in recent years by building artificial islands on reefs, on which it has added airstrips and other military-style installations.

State-run broadcaster CCTV's also dedicated an entire multimedia section on its English website devoted to the issue, including explainer videos, expert interviews and commentaries.

At the heart of it all is Beijing's worry that it would be perceived negatively should The Hague rules in favor of the Philippines claims, even though China insists it does not care about the decision, sometimes even stressing this point belligerently.

"The Chinese do care very much, particularly the possibility that their nine-dash line claim could be ruled inconsistent with the (United Nations) Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," Bonnie Glaser, Center for Strategic and International Studies' director of the China Power Project told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday.

"The fact that the Chinese are trying to rally support from every country that they can regardless of how far afield or how small, demonstrates that the Chinese do care about their reputation and image," she added.

A protestor holds a placard at a rally in front of the Chinese Consulate in Manila's financial district on July 7, 2015, denouncing China's claim to most of the South China Sea including areas claimed by the Philippines.
Beijing defiant on South China Sea as international court nears judgement on Philippines case

Manila is contesting China's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea, which the Philippines contends are invalid under international law.

China's claim to the South China Sea is based on the so-called "nine-dash line" demarcation drawn up after the second World War.

Countries challenging China's claims include the Philippines and Vietnam.

The Philippines is making its claim under the UNCLOS, which China is a signatory of. China, however, says its historic rights predate the UNCLOS and are not at odds with its provisions.

U.S. has not ratified the UNCLOS but is seeking to maintain "freedom of navigation" in the region and regularly sends naval vessels through the South China Sea.

In May, President Barack Obama said on his visit to Vietnam that Washington would stand with partners to ensure freedom of navigation and flight in the South China Sea, Reuters reported. Without mentioning China by name, he added big nations should not bully smaller ones.

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