Repeated use of a particular cartographic version can be perceived as endorsing or legitimising a particular geopolitical stance. This is why Vietnam’s objections are valid.
In 2022, the action-adventure film Uncharted was banned in Vietnam, and in 2021, Netflix pulled down two episodes from the Australian spy drama series Pine Gap after objections from Hanoi and Manila.Barbie is not the first instance of Hollywood productions landing in geopolitical hot water over the incorrect depiction of the South China Sea region. In 2022, the action-adventure film Uncharted was banned in Vietnam, and in 2021, Netflix pulled down two episodes from the Australian spy drama series Pine Gap after objections from Hanoi and Manila. The 2019 movie Abominable was also not screened in Vietnam for showing the contentious map. While the map shown in the scene is by itself indeed ‘cartoonish’ with distorted shapes barely resembling countries, the depiction of the nine-dash line even on such a map is at once both meaningless as well as disturbing. Soon after the announcement of Vietnam’s ban, Chinese social media erupted in celebration of what was being acknowledged as Warner Bros.’s decision to include the nine-dash line.
The nine-dash line is a demarcation line used by China to claim vast territorial rights over almost the entire South China Sea.What is definitely strange is that China’s cartographic version of the South China Sea appears to be the only version that many producers use despite repeated objections. Complaints regarding depictions of the nine-dash line in the South China Sea draw from the established tenets of international law and the rules-based order and are not solely of a moral, cultural, or religious nature which most objections to performing arts tend to generally be. The objections are valid because despite these being only movies and TV shows with little to no apparent relation with geostrategic imperatives, the use of the nine-dash line has been seen as endorsing China's territorial claims over the South China Sea, in direct contradiction to the claims of other countries in the region and most importantly, international maritime law. Repeated instances of the use of a particular cartographic version can therefore be perceived as endorsing or legitimising a particular geopolitical stance. Maps are vital tools for establishing sovereign territorial delimitations. And this is why Vietnam’s objections and complaints raised by other countries are not only valid but also must be done as many times as the instances of infringement.
Repeated instances of the use of a particular cartographic version can therefore be perceived as endorsing or legitimising a particular geopolitical stance.For Beijing, everything is political. When it comes to questions of sovereignty, it is natural for almost every country to be political. But where China differs from other countries is that doing business with China comes at a huge cost and often that cost goes beyond numbers. There are several instances of Beijing punishing studios for productions with content that go against what the Chinese Communist Party want their viewers to see and even changing entire scripts to portray the country not as a dictatorship but as a benevolent one. Despite having been dethroned as the number one box office market this year, it is still the second-largest one and will continue to have sway over what is shown and how it is shown. Maps showing the nine-dash line, therefore, are not significant enough at all to take cognisance of. Barbie will not be the last production to contain China’s version of political, cultural, and strategic messaging.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.
Pratnashree Basu is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata, with the CNED programme. She is a 2017 US Department of State IVLP Fellow ...Read More +