The Associated Press (AP) reports that the Chinese-American-made film depicts a map that supports China’s long-disputed claims that it owns a specific portion of the South China Sea.
The scene prompted Vietnam’s Culture Ministry’s cinema department to issue an order requiring all cinemas to stop showing the film, according to Reuters.
The image shows the so-called nine-dash line — a vague and broken demarcation line around the resource-rich waters that China claims as its own territory. Vietnam and other Asian governments have made overlapping claims over the years.
Additionally, an international tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s claims about the nine-dash line in a case brought by the Philippines.
The film, directed by Jill Culton (Monsters, Inc.), follows the story of a young Chinese girl named Yi who befriends a lost and estranged Yeti named Everest. With the help of her friends, Yi sets out on a journey across China to reunite Everest with his family back home in the Himalayas.
Vietnam’s ban of Abominable comes months after the country accused a Chinese security vessel of ramming and sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat. The incident took place back in March near the ambiguous Parcel Islands territory of the South China Sea.
According to the Tuoi Tre newspaper, five crew members were left clinging onto the destroyed ship and forced to wait two hours before being rescued by another Vietnamese fishing boat.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the accusations, claiming that the country detected a distress signal from the Vietnamese boat and dispatched a ship to rescue the crew.
The representative said the Chinese vessel arrived to find that the fishing boat was already sinking.
Since then, China has dispatched a vessel to conduct an energy survey in waters controlled by Vietnam.
The longstanding tension between the two countries was seemingly heightened after Abominable‘s take on the nine-dash line.
Vietnam’s cinema department has removed all advertising for the film, including posters, trailers and merchandise, from the Vietnamese distributors’ website and social media channels.
The department is responsible for the censorship of all movies for violence, sex and unfavourable political messages in authoritarian Vietnam.
“We will be more alert and more vigorous in censorship (in the future),” department head Nguyen Thu Ha told AP.
AP has reached out to a representative for both Dreamworks and China’s Foreign Ministry seeking comment about the controversial scene and Vietnam’s subsequent ban. The film has been criticized heavily by moviegoers throughout Asia.
“I wouldn’t watch it even if it still showed in the cinema,” Vietnamese student Nguyen Mai Huong said. “The (nine-dash) map is straight-up wrong. And I am absolutely not going to support it.”
“It is an insult to Vietnam,” added another student, who was looking for a movie to watch on Tuesday afternoon.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters