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Vietnam Pulls DreamWorks’ ‘Abominable’ Over Contested Territorial Claims

Rebecca Davis

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Vietnam has banned DreamWorks Animation’s new co-produced feature “Abominable” from its cinemas due to a scene involving a map that depicts China’s contested territorial claims in the South China Sea. The move comes as U.S. entertainment firms such as the NBA, Disney and gaming firm Activision Blizzard are under intense fire from U.S. fans, activists and politicians for giving in to Chinese censorship demands.

The map in the animated film shows the “nine-dash line,” a U-shaped boundary unilaterally declared by Beijing that carves out resource-rich maritime regions for itself. Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia all make contesting and overlapping claims. 

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China and Vietnam have long been at odds over the claims, but tensions have been at a particular high since July, when Beijing sent a vessel to conduct an energy survey in Vietnam-controlled waters.

“We will revoke [the movie’s license],” Vietnam’s deputy minister of culture, sports and tourism Ta Quang Dong was quoted as saying by a local newspaper. His bureau is responsible for the licensing and censoring of foreign films.

The film is a Sino-U.S. co-production between DreamWorks Animation and the Shanghai-based Pearl Studio. Pearl is now a fully Chinese-owned rebrand of the former Oriental DreamWorks joint venture, which was founded in 2012 to great fanfare as a landmark collaboration between Hollywood and China.

Pearl Studio had not replied to Variety’s request for comment at the time of publication.

In July 2016, an independent arbitration tribunal established under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) published a clear and binding ruling on China’s claims regarding the Philippines in the South China Sea. The tribunal said that the nine-dash line claims were mostly incompatible with UNCLOS, and explained that building artificial islands in the sea does not give China territorial claims in the area. China’s response was to call the ruling “a waste of paper.”

Last week, ESPN also faced criticism for using a map that appeared to endorse China’s claims to both the self-governed island of Taiwan and the same disputed South China Sea regions. China has never disavowed the possibility of using force to bring Taiwan to heel, and views the democratic island as a renegade province.

ESPN was already under fire last week. Reports said that its news director had circulated an internal memo forbidding discussion of politics related to the ongoing Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, in the wake of a self-censorship controversy related to the issue that has engulfed the NBA and its China operations. 

Disney — which has huge financial interests in the China market, particularly since the opening of its Shanghai Disneyland park in 2017 — owns 80% of ESPN.

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