Home » Publications » Vol. 18, No. 1 (2022) » The Limits of a Label: Framing Eastern Asia’s Territorial Conflicts for a U.S.-American Audience

The Limits of a Label: Framing Eastern Asia’s Territorial Conflicts for a U.S.-American Audience


This article explores limits to the framing power of several important short terms and phrases typically used within eastern Asia’s international politics. It conceptualises these labels as terminological frames. As frames, these terms/phrases help to set agendas, categorise, emphasise certain perspectives while excluding others from view, and ultimately shape opinions about controversial issues within international politics. Yet, I argue, the limits of frames have been insufficiently explored, especially as frames are taken to new audiences whose understanding of the broader discourses associated with the issues are weaker than that of the original audience. Do these terms still produce framing effects outside of eastern Asia? The study relied on a short survey of 800 U.S.-Americans. Respondents answered differing versions of questions relating to eastern Asian maritime politics in order to ascertain whether the wording and labels used affect evaluation of political issues. Specifically, the survey sought to determine whether use of East Sea vs. Sea of Japan, Northern Territories vs. Southern Kurils, and South China Sea vs. East Sea affected views of maritime disputes and issues relating to Korea, Japan, Russia, China/Taiwan, and Vietnam. It also explored whether an increasingly central phrase in eastern Asia’s maritime territorial disputes—“inherent territory”—presented a stronger claim than other possible phrases claiming territory. Survey results showed no statistical difference through use of one term or label over another. Thus, a certain type of limit to the power of these terminological frames was found. Nevertheless, the survey additionally demonstrated that producing framing effects required only a slight addition to the terminology, confirming the ease of framing international political issues to partisan effect.



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