China trying to etch nine-dash line in Vietnamese minds

By Pham Minh Phuong Hang   November 6, 2019 | 05:32 pm PT
China backs its outrageous territorial claims with a cunning and persistent strategy to ensure they register in people's minds.
Pham Minh Phuong Hang

Pham Minh Phuong Hang

"I wish I was born in your country. I would not have to feel guilty when I love and support you." So wrote N, an acquaintance of mine, on a Vietnamese fan page for Chinese singer and actor Zhang Yixing.

Known professionally as Lay Zhang or simply Lay, he was 20th in Forbes’ list of the 100 most popular Chinese in 2017.

In 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China has no legal basis to claim "historic rights" within its so-called nine-dash line in a case brought by the Philippines.

The tribunal said there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources there.

China boycotted the hearings and ignored the ruling, saying its armed forces would defend its sovereignty and maritime interests.

Lay, along with many other Chinese celebrities, posted on social media photos and maps showing the nine-dash line, which China has been using to claim a major part of the South China Sea -- known in Vietnam as the East Sea -- including territories of Vietnam and other littoral nations.

Weibo, one of the top Chinese social media platforms, was filled with hypernationalistic fulminations.

While a majority of Vietnamese fans expressed disappointment in their idols and were upset by those ridiculous statements, there were also people like N who tried to find reasons to justify what their idols did.

"We cannot blame them; obviously they have been forced to do so," and " I still support my idols" were among the comments posted by Vietnamese youths then.

I cannot criticize Vietnamese fans for favoring some foreign actor or movie. After all, emotions and arts should not be restricted by extraneous factors or national boundaries.

But one should not forget either that art, especially movies, has an influence on people, one that could stay for a long time. Who can deny that movies have a big influence on trends in fashion, makeup, food, music, language, and lifestyles?

China has created carefully calculated and very consistent scenarios to promote its nine-dash line.

It is hardly coincidence that the line appears everywhere: on souvenirs, T-shirts, caps, and other apparently innocuous things that Chinese nationals "unintentionally" bring not only to Vietnam but other nations as well.

Similarly it is not coincidence that the nine-dash line is incorporated into stories, cultural products and, now, movies that are shown across the world.

Most of China’s A-listers have posted maps with the line on their social media pages. They have undeniable influence on youths, and are used by authorities as a tool to promote Chinese claims.

Noticeably, China also focuses on propagating the nine-dash line through a number of children's products to more or less influence the future owners of other nations.

As for Vietnamese, why are we still so surprised every time we come across the nine-dash line though they might be in places we least expect?

In most cases, authorities have responded feebly and sporadically.

The appearance of the nine-dash line in the Hollywood animation movie "Abominable" was only pointed out by viewers more than a week after it was released in Vietnam.

Some officials like the acting director of the Cinema Department, Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, were demoted, but this is pointless when ranged against China's comprehensive strategy and unlimited funds.

It was a similar story last year with the Chinese movie, "Operation Red Sea."

But the movies were just two out of a number of instances where the nine-dash line has appeared.

Maps showing it have turned up in cars, online games, tourism brochures, books ... the list goes on.

A travel brochure used by Vietnams leading tourist firm Saigontourist at an international tourism fair features Chinas nine-dash line in September 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Nguyen.

A travel brochure used by Vietnam's leading tourist firm Saigontourist at an international tourism fair features China's nine-dash line in September 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Nguyen.

As long as Vietnamese authorities fail to take the initiative, the public, especially youths, will continue to be influenced and overwhelmed by what they see online and nationalistic spirit could be the casualty.

It is not difficult for the authorities to come up with a strategy or make consistent, comprehensive, scientific, and convincing statements about Vietnam's territorial integrity.

That way the public will clearly know what choices to make and how to react at the sight of the nine-dash line and other unreasonable claims.

Vietnamese cannot abandon their islands and waters. At the very least, we need a long-term culture, art and entertainment strategy targeting our youths to fill their gaps in knowledge about the nine-dash line.

If the younger generations do not even know they need to say "no" to products that cunningly advance the Chinese idea of usurping territory, how can they know about the land, seas and islands their ancestors fought to save for them?

But if adults believe the nine-dash line only pops up for a few seconds and there is no need to overreact, we could lose our territory in the minds of our people.

It could mean a reset to a new normal.

*Pham Minh Phuong Hang is a teacher. The opinions expressed are her own.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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