China Brings International Affairs to the Crossroads of the World


In a campaign that probably looks good on paper but in reality has questionable effectiveness, the Chinese government has taken its case for its maritime claims to the South China Sea to New York’s Times Square.  Since July 23, after an international tribunal in the Hague unequivocally rejected Beijing’s position, a three-minute, twelve-second video, described as “boring AF”, has played 120 times a day on the Xinhua video billboard that is perched on the north end of Times Square.  The video lays out China’s historical and modern day sovereign rights to the area also claimed by Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam before (maybe not unreasonably…we’re not maritime lawyers) advocating that the dispute should be resolved through bilateral negotiations between the claimants.

Recognizing that Wu Sichun, the President of China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies, might not be the most neutral messenger, the video presents supportive statements by non-Chinese international affairs experts John Ross, Former Policy Director of Economic and Business Policy of London; Masood Khalid, the ambassador of Pakistan to China; and Catherine West, the shadow secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the British Labour Party who was unaware that she was included in the video and whose appearance was taken out of context from an interview she gave on the matter.

China Daily and CCTV have highlighted positive reactions to the video from Chinese students in New York and non-Chinese tourists from Boston and Estonia, but the number of people who actually have seen the message is probably very small.  Even though over 300,000 people pass through Times Square each day, how many notice the Xinhua screen among everything in the area that demands attention and watch it long enough (the screen also shows other ads from Chinese companies and organizations like Union Pay, Zhongguancun Science Park, and the Shandong and Jiangsu tourism boards)?

Politics aside, it is interesting to think about this campaign as an example of how China tries to promote its positions and how people perceive efforts like this.  Do people automatically dismiss it out of skepticism or would they consider what’s being said?  Either way, it could encourage discussion about the issue.  Next time you see a tourist in Times Square get into a yelling match with someone dressed up as Captain America, you can bet they’re arguing about this territorial dispute.  If you join in the argument, you might miss a more harmonious video the Xinhua screen is showing.


Lead photo by Andrew Shiue