Backlash is growing in Southeast Asia over a scene in the animated film “Abominable” that features a map of the South China Sea showing Beijing’s contested claims in the flashpoint waterway.
The Philippines’ foreign secretary has called for the controversial segment to be excised, while Vietnam this week pulled the film altogether.
China has long laid claim over most of the resource-rich and strategic sea with its so-called “nine-dash” line, a steady source of regional tension.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and other nations in the region have staked claims that overlap with the area inside China’s line, which sweeps up waters close to its neighbours’ shores.
The scene in the film about a Chinese teenager helping a yeti return to his home — co-produced by US outfit Dreamworks and China’s Pearl Studio — shows a map featuring Beijing’s U-shaped line.
The cartoon opened in Philippine and Indonesian theatres earlier this month, but the adverse reactions in the Philippines didn’t surface until later.
“Of course they should cut out the offending scene which will show our displeasure better than if we unconstitutionally ban it as some suggest,” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin tweeted Wednesday, writing in upper case.
He said censors should “cut out crudely” and substitute the deleted segment “with a hectoring lecture”.
Malaysian film censors have reportedly ordered the offending portion be stripped from the picture.
Vietnam’s main cinema franchise CGV said on Monday it would no longer show the film after it was notified about the map, with the South Korean-owned firm calling it a “serious issue”.
Vietnamese state media also quoted the head of the country’s censorship body saying she was sorry for letting the error slip through.
China claims the majority of the South China Sea, often invoking its so-called nine-dash line as a supposed historical justification to the waters, a key global shipping route.
However, a 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling said China’s claim was without basis. Beijing has ignored the ruling.
The Philippines’ film regulation board gave the go-ahead for “Abominable” to run without restrictions and cinemas have shown it from October 2 with no controversy, according to the country’s largest cinema chain.
Philippine House of Representatives member Lawrence Fortun called for a ban or the scene’s removal.
“Aside from the disinformation and confusion it can create, its showing on Philippine soil will also have a negative bearing on our integrity as a country and nation,” Fortun said in a statement on Thursday.