Vietnam has banned the distribution of the popular movie “Barbie” due to a controversial map featured in the film, which displays disputed Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. The decision was made by Vietnam’s National Film Evaluation Council, leading to the removal of “Barbie” posters from movie distributors’ websites. The map in question shows China’s “nine-dash line,” a sensitive issue that extends Beijing’s territorial claims deep into waters also claimed by Vietnam and other neighboring countries.
China’s “nine-dash line” has been a subject of contention and has sparked tensions with ASEAN nations, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines. The line represents China’s maritime border, encompassing a significant portion of the South China Sea. However, other countries in the region dispute these claims, leading to frequent standoffs and disputes over fishing rights and resource exploration.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, responded to the issue during a daily briefing, stating that China’s position on the South China Sea is clear and consistent. Mao emphasized that cultural and people-to-people exchanges should not be linked to the South China Sea issue. China has often reacted strongly to portrayals that challenge its national image and border claims, frequently pressuring companies to comply with its demands.
China’s sensitivity regarding its national image and territorial claims has been demonstrated in the past. The country has retaliated against businesses and organizations that it believes have undermined its stance on sensitive issues. Companies, including those in the entertainment industry, often yield to Chinese complaints due to the fear of losing access to the lucrative Chinese market. Hollywood films, for instance, have been known to edit or modify scenes to align with the Chinese government’s expectations and maintain their market presence.
In 2016, an international court ruled that China’s “nine-dash line” had no legal basis and recognized the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in parts of the disputed area. However, China rejected the ruling and continued to assert its claims in the South China Sea.
Vietnam’s decision to ban the “Barbie” movie reflects its sensitivity to the territorial dispute and its determination to assert its position. This move is not the first time Vietnam has taken action regarding controversial maps. In 2019, Vietnam ordered the cancellation of showings of the movie “Abominable” after audience complaints about a scene featuring the “nine-dash line.” Similarly, politicians in the Philippines called for a boycott of DreamWorks releases, and Malaysia demanded the removal of the scene from the movie.
The ban on “Barbie” in Vietnam underscores the ongoing tensions and complexities surrounding the South China Sea dispute. The conflicting territorial claims and aggressive actions by Chinese vessels in the region continue to pose challenges to regional stability and highlight the sensitivity of any representation related to the dispute.