Beijing should either get the South China Sea map right or forget the Vietnamese market — for every Chinese product, from smartphones to automobiles.
That’s the message Hanoi sent recently to Beijing, taking the lead once again, among its neighbors, in the fight to contain China’s South China Sea ambitions.
The South China Sea has two maps these days, one drawn by the international community, and another drawn by China.
The difference between the two maps is that the Chinese version includes the “nine-dash line,” an ambiguous self-defined borderline, also going by the name “cow’s tongue.” The nine-dash line contains areas claimed by neighboring countries like Vietnam and the Philippines. It’s an area which allows China the right to control almost the entire South China Sea, and Beijing wants the world to know about it.
That’s whyBeijing has launched an offensive campaign to legitimize and disseminate this map, printing it on Chinese passports and books, displaying it on movies, and inserting it in GPS and smartphone devices.
But Vietnam has been pushing back hard against Beijing’s campaign. Last month, it banned the showing of Abominable, a film produced by DreamWorks and China, which includes a scene containing a map featuring the “nine-dash line.”
Now, Vietnam is taking its “war” against Beijing from movies to apps. It has stepped up inspections of China-made smartphones to make sure that they come with the right map of the South China Sea. It has also stepped up inspections of automobiles to make sure that their GPS comes with the right map, too.
“These steps have the potential of being turned into a trade war between Vietnam and China, which eventually spreads to Malaysia and the Philippines,” says Stathis Giannikos from Athens-based Pushkin Institute. ”They, too, have taken measures against the Abominable film last month. And don’t count India out, a country with territorial differences with China.”
Yannis Tsinas, a retired Washington diplomat and Greek naval officer, is concerned that the map war could raise the risk of an open military confrontation in the South China Sea. “When maps and borderlines are drawn,” he says, the day of an outright war “is coming closer.”
Hopefully, not that much closer, at least not yet. But the map wars could hurt sales, especially for Chinese smartphone makers like Huawei and Xiaomi, which count on these markets for their growth beyond China.