Chinese media promote the narrative of ‘Philippines as aggressor’ ahead of viral Marcos deepfake video

Chinese state media have been consistently portraying the Philippines as an aggressor in the West Philippine Sea, following a meeting between former President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping in July 2023. This portrayal intensified after altercations between the two countries in the area. Every month since August 2023, Chinese state media have been publishing articles alleging that the Philippines is provoking and causing trouble in the region.

Monitoring by an independent source found over 60 such articles and statements from Chinese government-owned media outlets, with a focus on painting the Philippines in a negative light. Alongside this narrative, there have been attempts to confuse Filipinos about their country’s role in the conflict, including the circulation of a “deepfake” audio clip supposedly featuring President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ordering an attack on China.

In addition to the media campaign, Chinese social media influencers and anonymous accounts have also spread rumors about an impending civil war in the Philippines in connection with the Mindanao independence campaign. This information campaign is being closely monitored by various entities to understand the extent of its impact on public discourse.

Despite the efforts to paint the Philippines as an aggressor, the Philippine government has maintained its stance on the 2016 Hague ruling that invalidated China’s claims in the South China Sea. However, Chinese media have labeled the Philippine government’s statements as “strikingly different” and indicative of a tougher stance.

Throughout the year, incidents between Chinese and Philippine vessels have been used to support the narrative of Philippine provocation in the area. The Chinese government and media have consistently blamed the Philippines for aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea, despite evidence suggesting otherwise.

The escalation of these narratives culminated in December 2023 with Chinese state media accusing the Philippines of repeatedly provoking China in the region. This narrative was amplified through various channels, reaching a wider audience and sparking discussions on social media platforms.

In the following months, the narrative continued with claims of Philippines’ continued provocations in the South China Sea. The tension further intensified when a “deepfake” audio clip of President Marcos directing military action against China surfaced, leading to speculation about foreign involvement in spreading disinformation.

Experts and media outlets, including Filipino think tanks, have also echoed the narrative of Philippine provocation in the West Philippine Sea. These claims have been disseminated through various platforms, both locally and internationally, contributing to the ongoing discourse on the conflict between the two nations.

The recent developments in the region underscore the importance of distinguishing between disinformation and accurate reporting, especially in sensitive geopolitical situations. Monitoring and analyzing these narratives are essential to understanding the dynamics of influence operations and their impact on public perception.

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