An obscure map used by China to claim ownership of virtually the entire South China Sea but internationally denied is now finding its way into the mainstream media thanks to an unlikely and perhaps unknowing accomplice: US companies.
Last week, an ESPN broadcast contained a graphic that featured China's territory as the disputed area within the Nine-Stroke line. The map placed Taiwan – an independently functioning democracy – as well as islands and sea zones claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, exactly within China's own declared territory.
Nevertheless, China's 9-stroke card also appeared on a much larger screen this month: Abominable the new animated family movie featuring a modern encounter of the Chinese family with a huge fluffy yeti. Although the film has done well at the box office, he has just ruffled some skins in Vietnam because of this card. On Monday, Vietnam pulled the film out of the cinemas to raise objections to the card.
ESPN's move may have been a mistake, but it appeared in a week in which American companies were exposed to criticism of what many regarded as corporate subservience to Beijing.
19659002] After China had responded angrily to a now-deleted tweet in support of democracy-oriented protesters in Hong Kong by Daryl Morey, general manager of Houston Rockets, the NBA issued a statement in Chinese, explaining it to them was "disappointed" In the same week, US gaming company Blizzard banned a professional player from Hong Kong (although the punishment was now relieved) because he had called protest slogans in a post-match interview.
Then came a series of decisions from Apple: removing the Taiwan flag emoji, banning a Hong Kong protest card app from the app store (Apple also removed the Quartz app from its China store) e). And in a leaked ESPN memo, a news director of the network banned employees from discussing protests in Hong Kong while reporting on the NBA China saga.
An ESPN spokesman declined to comment, but referred Quartz to an article in the Sports Business Daily. The article stated that the 9-dash line was "misused" and that another ESPN broadcast had "used a completely different map" that did not contain the line.
In the case of the film, it is less plausible that the recording of the nine-line card was a producer's mistake. As the first Hollywood cartoon featuring a modern Chinese family, the film is a collaboration between Universal's DreamWorks Animation and Shanghai-based Chinese production company Pearl Studio, owned by China Media Capital, an influential Chinese investor eager to build one global media empire. And the film was meticulously tailored to a Chinese audience: even the dialogue was translated so that the lip movements were largely consistent with the original English script, and the producers were considering how to get the details of a modern Chinese eat-in kitchen just right.
Given this attention to detail, the decision to take this card was probably carefully considered.
As US companies navigate an increasingly globalized pop culture landscape, questions arise about how to handle or cope with competing territories claims will come with increasing frequency. Meanwhile, China is doing its utmost to spread its nationalist message across borders through a combination of propaganda and apparently business partnerships.
"Because people and companies outside of China do not know or care much about it Disputes like the Nine-Stroke Line take on these nationalist propaganda positions without much knowledge," said Julian Ku, a law faculty professor Hofstra University in New York, adding that the two card-use cases are likely to reflect "a combination of Western companies ignorant and apathetic about these territorial issues."
Neither DreamWorks nor Pearl Studio had responded to a request for comments at the time of publication.