Times Square Is Now In The Middle Of A Fight Over The South China Sea

Having difficulty falling asleep? Head to Times Square, where a video on the South China Sea's islands will be playing 120 times a day for another almost two weeks.

China has taken its fight with the Philippines over who owns territory in the South China Sea to a whole new arena: Times Square.

Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images

China has been in the middle of a dispute over a set of islands and recently lost a key arbitration in the Hague Tribunal.

John Kerry said on Tuesday he supported the resumption of talks between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea, according to Reuters. But on Monday, foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) deleted a reference to the recent international arbitration ruling from a statement, which is seen as a diplomatic victory of China.

The state-run Xinhua announced Tuesday that a 3 minute long publicity video premiered on the Square's "China Screen" since last Saturday.


The screen sits on 2 Times Square, the famous building to the north end of the square, that has been leased to Xinhua since 2011.

The video aims to catch the attention of the crowd taking selfies and catching Pokémon and lecture them on the "the historical and legal evidence of China's sovereignty over the South China Sea," as CRI, a state-run English-language news website, explained.

It's not short on talking heads! With dense subtitles that are almost impossible to read from afar! (Graphic warning: the level of boredom might exceed the degree humans can endure.)

And — shocker — the foreign officials in the video might not necessarily be that ~unbiased~, or be quoted fairly within context.


For example, John Ross, who is named as "former Policy director of Economic and Business Policy of London," is also the former leader of a former international Marxist group leader and currently a frequent contributor for China Daily (another Chinese state-run newspaper) and a fellow at Renmin University of China who has defended China's human rights record.

Ross said in the video that "arbitration is between two parties who want to participate. You can't have arbitration if one side says it doesn't participate," highlighting that China didn't actually show up to argue its case. (But the ruling is still valid, even if it isn't binding.)

Here's what Masood Khalid, the ambassador to China from Pakistan had to say, which will surely win over the Times Square crowd:


"And this policy of — there are issues or disputes in South China Sea, which need to addressed by the sovereign states, which are directly concerned through negotiations and peaceful means, I think this is a good policy, and only through this effort and endeavor, we can maintain peace and stability in the region."

And Catherine West, a British Member of Parliament, clarified in an email to BuzzFeed News that she was not only misrepresented as "shadow foreign secretary," but "perplexed and concerned" by the position the video gave her.


She was actually on-record urging the UK foreign secretary to declare support for the arbitration ruling.

It isn't weird for a Chinese video to be playing in Times Square though — a ton of Chinese businesses have been having "Times Square fever."


Tourism videos of various Chinese provinces and cities, WeChat, and Uber's biggest competitor in China, Didikuaidi, have all made their debuts in Times Square. According to Chinese business news outlet Qdaily, over 100 Chinese companies displayed their ads there just in 2015.

To these companies, appearing in Times Square hits two birds with one stone: the ad will be a talking point for domestic potential consumers, too. The latest video has already having an effect as the news has been shared by various news outlets on Weibo.


"Some spending is worthwhile," a Weibo user responded, "many people abroad don't understand the historical background, and it's good to walk them through the facts."

BuzzFeed News has reached out to Sherwood Outdoor, the company that owns the billboards on the building, asking if they review the content of the ads they place.

According to the New York Times, rent for such screens ranged from $300,000 to $400,000 a month back in 2011.

If by this point you insist on watching the full footage, we are warning you again: it's three minutes and twelve seconds of your life you won't get back.

View this video on YouTube