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Vietnam bans ‘Barbie’ movie over disputed map of South China Sea

The ‘Nine-dash-line’ that shows China’s claim over the area shows up briefly in the film. The Vietnamese government’s decision leaves 100 million people without access to one of the most anticipated premieres of the season

Barbie Vietnam
Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in a scene from the movie 'Barbie', banned by Vietnam.Europa Press/Contacto/Warner Bros. (Europa Press/Contacto/Warner Bro)
María Porcel

One hundred million people will be deprived of the new Barbie movie over nine dashes on a map. The lines, drawn by China, indicate the areas of the mineral-rich South China Sea that the Asian giant considers to be its own, but which other countries dispute. The map is seen for a few seconds in a scene of a new movie by Greta Gerwig that is expected to be one of the hits of the season. But Vietnam, which does not accept that map, has banned its domestic distribution.

The veto was announced on Monday by Vietnamese authorities: “We do not grant license for the American movie Barbie to release in Vietnam because it contains the offending image of the nine-dash line,” Vi Kien Thanh, head of the Vietnam Cinema Department, responsible for licensing and censorship, said to the country’s media outlets. The distributor, Warner, has not made any statements, according to the specialized media Variety.

For Vietnamese authorities, the problem with the film starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken, which will hit theaters around the world on July 21, is one single scene where the map with the nine green dashes appear. This map was defined by China, which has considered it official since the mid-1980s. It marks a series of territories that it affirms to be Chinese, something with which other neighboring countries do not agree.

The nine green dashes indicate areas that China has unilaterally decided belongs to it.
The nine green dashes indicate areas that China has unilaterally decided belongs to it. CIA

In the case of Vietnam, the problem lies in the so-called Paracel Islands, which China has claimed as its own since the end of World War II and which it has controlled since 1974, but which Vietnam also considers part of its territory. In 2009, both Vietnam and Malaysia turned to the United Nations to recover those territories, but China’s response to it was that it was “the indisputable sovereign of the rights and jurisdiction of the pertinent waters, as well as their subsoil.”

For years, the escalation of tension has been increasing due to China’s unilateral decision to consider the islands its own, in what Vietnam considers a violation of its sovereignty. In fact, in 2016 China launched a direct commercial flight — earlier, there was only a military link — between the southern city of Haikou and the island of Woody (or Yongxing, in Mandarin), the largest of the Paracels. Indonesia and the Philippines have also expressed their disagreement with China. And even international jurisprudence, through the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, in 2016 denied China the possibility of claiming sovereignty over 90% of the waters of the South China Sea, as it claimed. The arbitration has been of little use, since the Asian giant has continued to consider those territories as its own.

This is not the first time that Vietnam bans a movie for similar reasons. Last year it happened to Uncharted, starring Tom Holland; in 2021, a couple of episodes of the Netflix series Pine Gap were banned; and in 2019 Abominable, an animated film by Dreamworks, was in theaters for a few weeks but ended up being withdrawn over the same issue.

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