Vietnam probes Blackpink concert organizer over South China Sea map

July 7, 2023 - 9:05 AM
This July 2023 photo shows Blackpink at the BST Hyde Park. (Blackpink/Facebook)

Vietnam has launched an inspection into the website of K-pop group Blackpink’s tour organizer, ahead of the group’s concert in Hanoi, over criticism from fans that it shows a map of the South China Sea with disputed boundaries.

The controversy follows Vietnam’s decision to ban Warner Bros’ WBD.O highly anticipated film “Barbie” over a scene allegedly featuring the “nine-dash line” used in Chinese maps to illustrate Beijing’s claims over vast areas of the South China Sea, including swathes of what Vietnam considers its continental shelf.

Vietnam’s culture ministry said late on Wednesday it had ordered an inspection of the iME website “to verify the suspicion that the company organizing the Blackpink music night promoted the cow-tongue line”, using the Vietnamese phrase to describe the U-shaped line.

The ministry did not immediately respond to questions about the possible outcome of the inspection. It was unclear when it would announce its findings.

South Korean agency YG Entertainment 122870.KQ, which manages Blackpink, had no immediate comment.

Late on Thursday, Brian Chow, CEO of iME, said in a statement that the incident was an “unfortunate misunderstanding”.

“iME quickly reviewed and committed to replace the images that are not suitable for Vietnamese,” Chow said in the statement, adding that iME was aware of respecting the sovereignty and culture of all the countries where it had a presence.

The iME website was still inaccessible after the statement but a cached version seen by Reuters and last updated on July 4, shows a vague nine-dash line that encompasses nearly the whole South China Sea.

Vietnam and China have long had overlapping territorial claims to a potentially energy-rich stretch in the waterway. The Southeast Asian country has repeatedly accused Chinese vessels of violating its sovereignty.

Blackpink, a cornerstone of South Korea’s multi-billion dollar entertainment industry, is the latest to court trouble in Vietnam for depicting China’s controversial nine-dash line, which was repudiated in an international arbitration ruling by a court in The Hague in 2016. China refuses to recognize the ruling.

The culture ministry’s move followed complaints by Vietnamese internet users who noticed the nine-dash line on the organizer’s website.

“Bought two tickets for me and my date. Then saw the cow-tongue, and quit. I am (a) patriot,” Tu Anh Xinh, a Blackpink fan wrote on Facebook.

The world-famous K-pop girl group is due to perform in Vietnam for the first time on July 29-30, having been granted a government license that requested the organizer to comply with the government’s regulations on performing activities.

—Reporting by Phuong Nguyen, Khanh Vu, Francesco Guarascio in Hanoi; additional reporting by Hyunsu Yim in Seoul; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Hugh Lawson