Vietnam bans ‘Barbie’ movie due to an illustration showing China’s territorial claim

HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam’s state media have reported that the government banned distribution of the popular “Barbie” movie because it includes a view of a map showing disputed Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The newspaper Vietnam Express and other media said posters advertising “Barbie” were removed from movie distributors’ websites after Monday’s decision. With Margot Robbie playing Barbie opposite Ryan Gosling’s Ken in Greta Gerwig’s comedic look at their “perfect” world, “Barbie” was supposed to open July 21 in Vietnamese theaters.

The reports cited Vi Kien Thanh, director general of the Vietnam Cinema Department, as saying the National Film Evaluation Council made the decision. It said a map in the film shows China’s “nine-dash line,” which extends Beijing’s territorial claims far into waters that fall within areas claimed by Vietnam and other countries.

The “nine-dash line” is an arcane but sensitive issue for China and its neighbors that shows Beijing’s maritime border extending into areas claimed by other governments and encompasses most of the South China Sea. That has brought it into tense standoffs with the ASEAN nations of Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, with Chinese fishing boats and military vessels becoming more aggressive in the disputed waters.

Asked about the issue at a daily briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, “China’s position on the South China Sea issue is clear and consistent.”

“We believe that the countries concerned should not link the South China Sea issue with normal cultural and people-to-people exchanges,” Mao said.

However, China is exceedingly sensitive when it comes to how its national image and border claims are portrayed in entertainment and by businesses. For example, it has routinely retaliated against companies from hotels to airlines that it believes have suggested that self-governing Taiwan – with its own political system, country code and currency — is anything other than a part of China.

Companies almost always acquiesce to Chinese complaints, fearing they risk being locked out of the huge, lucrative Chinese market. That includes Hollywood films deleting or adding scenes based on the expected response on the ruling Communist Party and the highly nationalistic public.

When an international court ruled in 2016 that the “nine-dash line” has no basis in law and the Philippines was entitled to an exclusive economic zone in part of the area claimed by Beijing, China rejected the ruling.

Warner Bros. offices were closed Tuesday for the July 4 holiday.

In 2019, Vietnam ordered showings of “Abominable” canceled after moviegoers complained about a scene showing the “nine-dash line.” Politicians in the Philippines called for a boycott of all DreamWorks releases to protest the scene, and Malaysia ordered the scene to be cut from the movie.

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