Animated Film Draws Scrutiny for Use of China's "Nine-Dash Line"

Image via social media ("X" added by users)

By The Maritime Executive 10-16-2019 04:10:35

American animation studio DreamWorks faces criticism in Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines over its new movie, "Abominable," which includes a scene with a map depicting China's "nine-dash line" claim to most of the South China Sea. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague invalidated China's sweeping maritime claims in the region in a 2016 ruling, finding that "no legal basis for China to claim historic rights" to the area, but China has largely ignored the decision. 

The "nine-dash line" is a sensitive topic for China's regional neighbors, as it overlaps broad areas of their respective EEZs. In Vietnam, where China has repeatedly pressured oil and gas companies not to develop prospects located within the Vietnamese EEZ, the movie received a less-than-warm welcome. 

Vietnamese government censors missed the scene when they conducted their initial review, but after irate moviegoers posted images of the nine-dash line graphic on social media, Vietnam's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism moved to revoke the film's distribution license. The head of the ministry's cinema department, Nguyen Thu Ha, apologized for failing to detect and censor the image, and she promised the public that her agency would be "more prudent in the future." All promotional material for the film has been pulled off the Vietnamese distributor's online presence, and the trailer has been taken out of circulation in all cinema pre-show advertising, according to local media.

The episode is a reprise of an upset in early 2018, when a Chinese-produced action movie used the phrase "South China Sea" to refer to the South China Sea. In Vietnam, the region is known as the "East Sea," and the use of the generally accepted name sparked a minor outcry. [The Philippines and Indonesia have also adopted unique names for the portions of the South China Sea that fall within their respective EEZs.]

In Taiwan, DreamWorks drew sharp criticism for the depiction of the "nine-dash line." In an article - not an editorial - Taiwan News decried "cash-craving executives" who "kowtowed" to Beijing in exchange for "a few extra Renminbi." With a "tenth dash," the line on the map encircles Taiwan, which maintains its political independence from China despite Beijing's assertions of sovereignty. 

In the Philippines, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin called for censors to "cut out the offending scene." “For me, call a universal boycott of all DreamWorks productions from here on," he said. The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday that the nation's film regulator was weighing whether to follow Vietnam's lead and remove the film from cinemas. 

Though not a central part of the controversy, the map in the film also dramatically shrinks the size of the Philippines: it omits the southern island of Mindanao and the central Visayas region entirely, savvy social media observers noted.