Media reporting on the South China Sea dispute

by Dr. Tim Stevens

Media coverage of the South China Sea dispute is weighted heavily toward US-China dynamics and obscures a richness of local and regional detail.


Few areas of the world attract more media attention currently than the South China Sea. This key maritime waterway and resource zone in the western Pacific is at the heart of rising tensions between China and the United States, who are rattling sabres more vigorously at one another than at any time since the build-up to the Korean War seventy years ago. Despite their demonstrable mutual interdependence, neither side seems willing to cooperate constructively enough to avoid the first superpower conflict of the 21st century.

This, at least, is the dominant narrative driving Western perceptions of US-China relations in east Asia. There are valid concerns arising from mutual Sino-American antagonism. Conflict is certainly possible. But there is another story of the South China Sea less commonly told outside the region. This alternative narrative pays greater attention to the claims and counter-claims of all the parties to the South China Sea dispute, in which there is more at stake than the fortunes of the US and China alone. Dominant modes of mainstream media reporting obscure important local dynamics, disguising a richly textured picture of regional constraints and opportunities.

Sovereign Data looks at the South China Sea dispute in its regional context and identifies the value of greater visibility and more detailed understanding of this complex geopolitical landscape.

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Citation: “Media reporting on the South China Sea dispute,” Sovereign Data Vol 1. No. 5 (November 2015).