South China Sea

The upcoming release of the live action Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie has sparked controversy and debate in unexpected parts of the world following a ban by the Vietnamese government over the long running South China Sea debate.

The South China Sea Depicting the Infamous Nine Dash

The ban was placed because of what a senior official called an “offensive image” of the South China Sea depicting the infamous nine dash line to which Vietnam contests. It is worth exploring first what the nine dash line is, why Vietnam is willing to ban a movie because of it and why such debates have only come to mass public attention through a movie about a doll.

The nine dash line is a line drawn by China over the map of the South China Sea staking what it says is it’s historic claim over the area. This issue has been further highlighted by China building artificial islands to extend their claim of coastline and gain more control of the South China Sea. China says that they have historic precedent over the area, but where this becomes an international issue is when the nine dash line infringes on the claims of several other countries over the South China Sea, including Vietnam.

For Vietnam, the depiction of the nine dash line was validation of their claim of the Sea being erased, which is why banning the movie was a small price to pay. This is not the first time they have done this either, with the animated movie Abominable and the Sony production of Uncharted being struck down for the same reasons.

However, validation from the Barbie movie may be the only thing the nine dash line has in its corner aside from China’s own claims, since the issue has been widely taken up on international platforms and many countries oppose the Chinese claim. The UNCLOS 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone map puts the area encircled by the nine dash line outside of China’s territory, and the ruling by this United Nations body is the one most countries adhere to, along with the decision of a 2016 international tribunal in The Hague against the nine dash line. This has not stopped Chinese military activity in the area, or the construction of artificial islands.

Most Countries are in Agreement Against

The question that arises then is that if most countries are in agreement against the nine dash line, why can’t China be stopped? This is because of the jurisdiction and mandate of the UN, which is very limited in taking such action since they cannot force a country to stick to any decision and peacekeeping forces are restricted for conflict zones as decided by the United Nations Security Council only, in which China holds a veto. The power to make such rulings may lie with the ICJ, the International Court of Justice, but China and other giants of international politics such as the USA and Russia do not recognize the authority of the ICJ as a whole, so none of its decisions are binding. This is the same reason for which the Russia Ukraine war has not been solved by the UN yet.

For the smaller countries with China at their doorstep, things may be frustrating, but they work together under an organisation known as ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) to combat the issue. For now though, if we cannot get China to withdraw it’s nine dashes, we can start by removing them from the Barbie movie.

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