Barbie's strange promotion of China's expansive territorial claims

The new Barbie movie has been banned in Vietnam. Not because of any of the imagined controversies that have caused American conservatives to denounce the movie, but because it subtly promotes a territorial claim by China that impinges on Vietnam's sovereignty. Link to the Vox article here.

The controversy concerns a map of the "real world" that appears when Margot Robbie's Barbie is told she must leave Barbieland and enter the real world after her perfectly arched feet have inexplicably turned flat. Shown for only a split second, the map looks as if it were drawn by a child — one who likes bright colors and has failed geography class. Among a mess of shapes and scribbles, one oddly specific detail stood out to reviewers from Vietnam's National Film Evaluation Council: a dotted, U-shaped trail crossing into the ocean from what's supposed to be China.

The dashed line jutting out of Asia may look like an innocent flourish on a child-like map of the world, but a curved dashed line jutting out from Asia east and south into the sea has great and inflammatory significance to Vietnam.

As far as the council is concerned, this is no ordinary doodle, but a clear and deliberate representation of the so-called nine-dash line: a maritime boundary demarcating Beijing's contested ownership of the South China Sea. The line has been featured on Chinese maps since the 1940s and, despite being rejected by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2016, is still used today to justify the expansion of China's naval presence in the region, its construction of artificial islands, and its intimidation of foreign fishermen.

The nine-dash line is represented in red in the below map. China claims the line marks the boundary of its territorial claims in the sea, far south of its own borders, and limiting Vietnam's resources to only its most immediate coastal waters.

There is concern that those few lines on a child's map were an attempt by Warner Bros. to curry favor with China.

The film has also raised security concerns in Washington, where politicians doubt the Warner Bros. Film Group's assertion that the map's resemblance to the nine-dash line was purely accidental. "While it may just be a Barbie map in a Barbie world," Mike Gallagher, a Republican representative of Wisconsin leading the House's China committee, told Politico, "the fact that a cartoonish, crayon-scribbled map seems to go out of its way to depict the PRC's unlawful territorial claims illustrates the pressure that Hollywood is under to please CCP censors."