Viewers in the Philippines reported on Monday that they could no longer access at least two episodes of the Australian TV series Pine Gap after Manila demanded Netflix remove them over the depiction of false Chinese territorial claims.
The episodes in question reportedly featured a map of the South China Sea displaying the “nine-dash line,” a non-existent maritime border showing Beijing’s claims in the region. The Chinese Communist Party claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including within its nine-dash border territory belonging to the Philippines. The Chinese have also illegally asserted ownership over territory belonging to Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan, and have threatened to possess waters off the coast of Indonesia’s Natuna Islands.
The government of the Philippines sued China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague. The court ruled in 2016 that China’s claims were entirely illegal and Beijing had no right to maintain what has become a growing military presence in the South China Sea. Beijing has largely ignored the ruling and, aside from its complaints to Netflix, the government of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has done little to stop the Communist Party from expanding in its territory.
Netflix similarly removed the Pine Gap episodes from its rotation in Vietnam after a government complaint in July.
Pine Gap is an Australian spy thriller. The Philippine newspaper SunStar published images of the show’s episode listings on Netflix from within the country this week. Episodes 2 and 3 appear as unavailable with a sign reading, “Episode Removed by Government Demand.”
The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed publicly it had lodged a complaint with Netflix, referring to the offending program episodes as “unfit for public exhibition,” citing Manila’s Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB).
“Under a whole-of-nation approach, every instrumentality of the government, whenever presented with the opportunity, has the responsibility to counter China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea to assert the Philippines’ territorial integrity,” the censorship agency asserted. The MTRCB reportedly accused Pine Gap‘s producers of engaging in “a crafty attempt to perpetuate and memorialize in the conscious of the present generation of viewers and the generations to come the illegal nine-dash line.”
The Agence-France Presse (AFP) indicated that Netflix appeared to have not completely complied with Manila’s request, as Philippine government officials confirmed they had also demanded the streamer remove the fourth episode of the program from its rotation.
While the movie review board insisted that the Philippines was engaging in a “whole-of-nation approach” to combat China’s false claims to its territory, President Duterte himself has been largely absent, if not openly opposed to, this campaign. Duterte has repeatedly stated that he believes the South China Sea dispute cannot end without a war – one he has no confidence in his nation winning.
“For me, there is no other way but a war. If we promote a war against China and America, it can be accelerated. But at what cost to us? That is the problem,” Duterte said in remarks in April. “But we can retake it only by force. There is no way that we can get back what they call [the West] Philippine Sea without any bloodshed. That’s true.”
“It will result in a violence that we cannot maybe win,” he concluded.
Duterte has also bizarrely condemned the United States for opposing China’s illegal territorial expansion into his country, accusing Washington of using the Philippines as “bait” to start a war.
“We can never win a war with China. But I hope China would not overdo things,” Duterte said in 2019 at an entirely unrelated event at a rice processing center. “There is always America pushing us, egging us … making me the bait. What do you think Filipinos are, earthworms?”
Duterte’s top diplomat, Foreign Affairs Minister Teodoro Locsin, Jr., also attacked the United States in remarking on the Netflix controversy, suggesting that the “Americans” at Netflix were looking to “sell [Filipinos] out.”
“Report them to appropriate U.S. Agency,” Locsin suggested in a post on Twitter, presumably referring to Netflix.
PH asks Netflix to remove ‘Pine Gap’ episodes over China map:https://t.co/JhFN3vQUYT via @ABSCBNNews Report them to appropriate US Agency. Netflix may have Oriental equity. Don’t let anything slip past us. Watch out for Americans out to sell us out. Or it’s just poor education.
— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) November 2, 2021
Like the Philippines, Vietnam has abstained from most meaningful political pushback to Beijing’s assertion of ownership over parts of the country. Instead, in July, it targeted Netflix over the same program. Hanoi’s top censorship body told Netflix in a statement that month that the same two episodes of Pine Gap “violated the country’s sovereignty over sea and islands” and “seriously infringed [upon] Vietnam’s Law on the Press and Law on Cinema.” Netflix complied with the request to remove the program.
The government campaigns against the presence of Chinese Communist propaganda in television series mirrors a much more expansive push by the Chinese regime to erase any media from existence that challenges its authority in any way. China regularly forces Hollywood to censor its films over minor perceived slights and recently imposed a law on Hong Kong, where it has no legal right to enact legislation, allowing pro-Beijing government officials to ban any film deemed a threat to “national security.”
Netflix found itself in the crosshairs of a Chinese censorship campaign in May over a promotional poster for the Thai drama Girl from Nowhere. Beijing offered no objections to the program, but to a poster in which the main character says “thank you” to viewers in different languages. The image featured the flags of Taiwan and Hong Kong, implying their separate nature from China. Hong Kong is legally a free society autonomous from Beijing, though China has ceased respecting this distinction. Taiwan is a sovereign country that China illegally considers a rogue “province.”
The show’s promotional team ultimately modified the poster.