Explained: Why Vietnam has banned animation film ‘Abominable’

A still from the animated film 'Abominable'.

Vietnam has banned the animated film 'Abominable' because a scene in the film showed a map that supports China’s claims to the South China Sea, a disputed territory among Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia. Philstar Global, a Philippines-based news portal, reported on Wednesday that Teodoro Locsin Jr, the country's Foreign Affairs Secretary, has called for a boycott and ban of the film in the Philippines.

Why it is controversial

The scene displays China’s so-called nine-dash line, leading to Vietnam pulling the film from theatres on Monday. The animated film’s plot does not touch the subject of the disputed territory directly. The story is about a quest undertaken by teenage girl Yi and her two friends to reunite a yeti with his family. Read Abominable's review here

Over the last few years, Vietnam has been the most vocal opponent of China's claim over the South China Sea. China stakes the largest claim over the South China Sea, using a U-shaped “nine-dash line” that is over 2000 km long, starting from mainland China and reaching waters close to Indonesia and Malaysia.

The South China Sea dispute

This sea route, connecting Asia with Europe and Africa, is an important trade passageway for international trade. The dispute involves territorial claims made by different Southeast Asian nations, with some of them overlapping the others. It is bordered by Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand. According to the South China Morning Post, China’s claims cover more than 80 per cent of it, while Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, and Brunei and Malaysia claim the southern parts of the sea and some parts of the Spratly Islands. There is overlap among these territories.

In 1994, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) came into force. Under its provisions, an area up to 200 nautical miles from coastlines is meant for use solely by the coastal nations, giving them rights to exploit the marine resources as well.

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Recent events

In 2013, China commissioned a satellite data receiving station in the southern island province of Hainan to observe the sea. Then in 2014 there were reports that a Chinese coast guard used a water cannon at Filipino fishermen in a disputed shoal of the sea.

In May this year, the Philippines Supreme Court, in response to a petition filed by fishing communities, ordered government and security agencies to protect the environment in the disputed areas of the sea. The fishing communities had alleged that China’s island-building practices were in violation of a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in a case that the Philippines had won.

In 2018, satellite images reviewed by a US think tank showed that China had installed a platform in a remote part of the Paracel Islands.

The US too has got involved with President Donald Trump offering to mediate. During his 2017 visit to Vietnam, Trump was quoted as having told then President Tran Dai Quang, “If I can help mediate or arbitrate, please let me know. I’m a very good mediator and arbitrator.” In May 2018, the White House spokesperson said, “We’re well aware of China’s militarisation of the South China Sea. We’ve raised concerns directly with the Chinese about this and there will be near-term and long-term consequences.”