‘We are now a battleground’: In Southeast Asia, US-China tensions are raging on social media

(Reuters) – Tensions between the United States and China over the South China Sea have turned into a war of words on social media, with analysts watching a change in US strategy amid a growing superpower rivalry in Southeast Asia.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese and American flags were hoisted on June 3, 2020 in Shanghai, China. REUTERS / Aly Song

After Washington tightened its position last week after Washington explicitly rejected Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea, US embassies in the region criticized Beijing’s actions as an unprecedented spate of op-eds and statements put.

China’s response was furious, accusing Washington of “defaming China with untrue words to mislead the public”.

“We are now a battleground,” said Renato de Castro, analyst at the Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Relations in the Philippines. “It will be a long game.”

A week ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described Beijing’s claim of nearly 90% of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea as “completely illegal” and accused Beijing of demanding a “maritime empire”.

The US embassies in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Cambodia commented on Facebook and in editorials at local news outlets that Beijing’s actions fit a pattern of encroachment on the sovereignty of others.

The US ambassador to Thailand accused Chinese dams of withdrawing water from the region’s Mekong River during a drought last year.

The embassy in Yangon drew parallels between the South China Sea and said China is interfering in Myanmar, investing in saying it could become a debt trap, trafficking women in China as brides and Drug inflows may occur in the country.

In a swift retaliation, China’s ambassador to Thailand accused Washington of “attempting discord between China and other LTTE countries”.

In a Facebook post that twice referred to the United States as “dirty”, the Myanmar embassy in China said its agencies abroad were doing “disgusting acts” to contain China and one Shown “selfish, hypocritical, contempt and ugly face”.

The statements attracted thousands of regional social media comments, questioning the intentions of both countries as China carried out several attacks.

In the Philippines’ Facebook post under the US Embassy, ​​Chelli Ocampo commented, “Thank you USA for requiring the law.”

Someone wrote on the US embassy on the Malaysia page, “Imperial Yankee Go Home !!!!!!”, the US diplomats replied, “Are you saying that you are okay with the PRC bullying tactics in SCS? ”

‘Description and report’

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a news conference in Beijing that it was “the US that first published comments attacking and condemning China” and was issuing clarifications and rebuttals in its diplomatic response.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on a clearly coordinated social media offensive.

Analysts say that this war has led to a new agreement for US diplomacy in the region.

The author of an upcoming book on China’s territorial influence, Sebastian Strangio, said that the US statements have led the South China Sea to portray the South China Sea as “an inequality for the sovereignty of Southeast Asian countries”. Is targeted for

Meanwhile, China’s response since the onset of the coronovirus epidemic was consistent with “terrible ‘Wolf-Warrior diplomacy”, he said, referring to increasingly nationalist Chinese rhetoric.

The recent strains in the South China Sea have become more pronounced, with the US and Chinese navies practicing together in the waterway that China claims over smaller rivals, including the Philippines and Vietnam, based on history.

“China cannot give the US a commendable advantage in forming regional opinion,” said Colin Koh Swee Lein, a research associate at Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

“At least some of the Southeast Asian governments … may secretly, if not publicly, welcome the latest Pompeo statement and thus accept it for possibly opposing its moves in disputed waters can go.”

Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Matthew Tostwin and Alex Richardson

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