East-West Media Conference in Manila: South China Sea, AI, and Climate Crisis

As the tension in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) escalates, so too does the spread of digital misinformation and disinformation.

Addressing over 400 journalists and media professionals from the Asia Pacific region, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo stressed the crucial role of journalism in truthfully reporting geopolitical tensions. He highlighted the damaging impact of artificial intelligence in distorting facts, asserting that a free press that reports events as they occur is the "hallmark of a true democracy."

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo one of the keynote speakers of the East-West Center Internationa Media Conference in Manila. Photo: EWC.

The address came a week after an incident on June 17 in the West Philippine Sea, where armed Chinese Coast Guard personnel interfered with a Filipino navy resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre, resulting in a navy servicemember losing a thumb. Manalo expressed his gratitude towards the media for accurately reporting the events in the West Philippine Sea and resisting the creation of "alternative realities" through AI and disinformation.

He remarked, “These efforts are vital to our commitment to a rules-based international order and our resolve to defend our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction, especially in the West Philippine Sea. Authentic photos and videos—those not generated by AI or altered digitally—speak more loudly and effectively than the numerous attempts at misinformation and spreading of false narratives. Our friends in the media, many of whom are here today, have reported these developments freely, without coercion or intimidation by our government."

Manalo also praised the media for their role in spotlighting the ongoing issues in the West Philippine Sea, adding, "We are thankful for our partnership with you. Your work has significantly contributed to highlighting the real situation in the West Philippine Sea, and your reports have emphasized our nation's efforts to counter illegal, coercive, aggressive, and deceptive actions in our waters."

June 17 incident in the West Philippine Sea, where Chinese Coast Guard personnel armed with bladed weapons, disrupted a Filipino navy resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre, resulting in injuries including a navy servicemember losing his thumb. Photo: AFP

The Pawn?

In response to comments from March 2024 by Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Mao Ning, who described the Philippines as a "pawn" of the United States in the contested waters, Manalo countered Beijing's accusations.

He criticised such claims. 

He argued against the portrayal of the Philippines and its claims on the West Philippine Sea merely as a backdrop for great power competition, emphasising that such narratives obscure the real issues and undermine the understanding of the complex situation, which hinges on the disregard of international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as validated by the 2016 Arbitral Award, and the legitimate rights of coastal states like the Philippines.

Manalo also said that faithfully implementing maritime rules can effectively reduce conflicts over maritime boundaries and resource claims, thereby promoting peace and stability in the region, rather than encroaching on the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of other nations.

Following his remarks was US Ambassador to the Philippines MarKay Carlson, who also dismissed Beijing’s narrative about the Philippines, she said, “as our partner, we support that they are not a pawn in a great-power game… They occupy what some people call essential geography. And as a nation with more water than land, it has unique challenges.”

US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson urged China to “cease harassment of Philippine vessels." Photo: EWC

The US envoy did not hold back in calling out Beijing’s aggressive manoeuvring in the region, emphasising that the international community is watching their every move, “it is certainly in our interest to ensure that bullying behavior does not go unchecked, not only for ourselves, but for the rest of the globe… We are urging the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to cease harassment of Philippine vessels lawfully operating in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone; to halt its disruption of states’ sovereign rights to explore, utilize, conserve, and manage natural resources in their own EEZs; and to end interference with the freedoms of navigation and overflight of all states' lawful operation, not only in this region, but around the world.”

East-West Center International Media Conference

The two officials concluded their talks on the last day of the four-day international media conference in Manila, organised by the East-West Center. This biennial gathering aims to bring together journalists from across the Indo-Pacific and was held in the Philippines for the first time—a nation currently at the heart of escalating regional tensions.

Over 400 journalists from Indo-Pacific region attended the East-West Center International Media Conference in Manila last week. Photo: EWC

The conference also addressed the role of Artificial Intelligence in journalism. While AI presents significant opportunities for the news industry, it requires cautious implementation. Additionally, the climate crisis was a major topic, emphasising the need for a combination of modern scientific approaches and traditional knowledge in addressing environmental challenges.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Asia Media Centre is one of East-West Center's partners in the event, bringing seven senior journalists and media executives from New Zealand to Manila for the conference.

-Asia Media Centre