Vietnam Fines Regional Bayer CEO for Using Illegal Chinese South China Sea Map

SUBI REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - SEPTEMBER 2016: (SOUTH AFRICA OUT) A satellite image of Subi Reef, an artificial island being developed by China in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Image taken 4 September 2016. (Photo by USGS/NASA Landsat data/Orbital Horizon/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
USGS/NASA Landsat data/Orbital Horizon/Gallo Images/Getty Images

A Vietnamese city fined the CEO of Bayer Vietnam $1,286 on Thursday for distributing a map of the South China Sea depicting China’s controversial nine-dash line, which Beijing uses to illegally claim territory in the sea, Vietnamese online newspaper VnExpress reported on Thursday.

The Ho Chi Minh City government summoned Bayer’s local director, Lynette Moey Yu Lin, on Thursday, informing her that she will be fined for violating Vietnam’s “regulation banning the spread of illegal information and images regarding Vietnam’s sovereignty” by sending a personal email containing misinformation last month, Japan’s Nikkei reported.

According to Ho Chi Minh City’s Department of Information Technology and Communications, Lin – a Malaysian of Chinese origin – admitted to emailing a document entitled “COVID-19, Lesson from China,” which contained a map depicting the nine-dash line, to nine department managers who were then expected to forward the document to subordinate staff, VnExpress reports. Germany’s Bayer, a major pharmaceutical company, employs about 700 people in Vietnam, according to the report.

Last fall, Vietnam pulled a movie from theaters because it contained a scene depicting the nine-dash line map. The film’s distributor in Vietnam, South Korean company CJ CGV, was ordered to stop screening the movie and fined 170 million dong [about $7,281] for licensing the film. Malaysia and the Philippines, other Southeast Asian nations with sovereign territory in the South China Sea, also objected to the film’s use of map, with Malaysia banning it altogether.

The animated movie, entitled “Abominable,” was coproduced by American studio DreamWorks’ Animation and China’s Pearl Studio. To appease the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP)’s strict film censorship, many Hollywood studios partner with Chinese studios to produce a movie when hoping for a release in China’s competitive market.

In October 2019, American TV network ESPN, owned by Disney, used the nine-dash line map in an illustration depicted on its most widely-viewed program, Sportcenter. A Reuters report at the time said that the show had previously used maps of the region without the nine-dash line, indicating that the use was intentional.

ESPN chose to use the map at a time of rising tension between the National Basketball Association (NBA), and China. The week prior, the general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, had tweeted his support of the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The tweet caused a backlash from China, with some Chinese businesses cutting ties with the NBA. Intimidated, the NBA forced Morey to issue an apology to the CCP. ESPN, which has a multibillion-dollar content rights deal with the NBA, followed suit, issuing an internal memo to staff forbidding them from discussing the political aspect of the NBA-China feud on the network.

Beijing uses the nine-dash line to justify its claims of sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, which has been hotly disputed for years and especially in recent months as China increases its military presence there. China’s encroachment in the waters continues despite the fact that its declarations of sovereignty over the sea were declared unlawful in an international court ruling in 2016. China’s claims to territory within the nine-dash line infringe on waters legally belonging to Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

In recent weeks, Vietnam has been forced to formally defend its sovereign territory in the waters a handful of times as Beijing has grown increasingly belligerent toward the country. In April, a Chinese ship hit and sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat, prompting Vietnam to issue a formal protest of the aggression.

On May 12, Vietnam ordered its fisherman to continue operations despite a ban on fishing issued by Beijing, which called for Vietnam to halt fishing activities within its own exclusive economic zone.

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