How a wave of disinformation is endangering Rohingya refugees in Indonesia

Dozens of photos and videos that have been either “doctored” or taken out of context so as to negatively portray Rohingya refugees have been circulating on Indonesian social media. This wave of disinformation has become so intense that the United Nations is worried about the refugees’ safety – even in Aceh province, which has, historically, been considered very welcoming. Our Observer, an Indonesian journalist who specialises in fact-checking for a publication called Mafindo, has been looking at the rise in online hate speech and fake news targeting the Rohingya.

Hundreds of protesters forced a group of Rohingya refugees to leave their temporary shelter in a parking lot in Banda Aceh, the capital of the Indonesian province of Aceh, on December 27, 2023. Videos show the protesters chanting slogans like “get them out” and threatening the frightened refugees, among them women and children. 

This footage, which was widely circulated both on social media and by media outlets, has shocked the Rohingya community and its advocates. Each year, many Rohingya arrive in makeshift boats on the beaches of this province in the far northern part of Indonesia. Up until now, they were welcomed by locals. 

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Myanmar, have long faced persecution in their country, but more than 700,000 of them fled when the Myanmar military began a violent campaign of repression in August 2017. Many of them now live as refugees in Bangladesh, often in dire circumstances. Many Rohingya have been attempting to flee the terrible situations in both Myanmar and Bangladesh by boat. 

Many of these boats are bound for Malaysia. However, few reach their target destination, whether due to poor weather conditions, overcrowding or badly equipped boats.  

Many of the boats end up coming ashore in the Indonesian region of Aceh. More than 1,600 landed there in 2023, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

However, in recent months, it seems like the Rohingyas are no longer welcome in Aceh. A group of locals rejected a boat filled with more than 250 refugees back in November 2023, forcing them back to sea and, since then, there have been other cases of the same kind of response. There have also been other reports of locals physically and verbally threatening refugees. Locals have also accused workers with the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) of being part of a human trafficking network. 

The spike in anti-Rohinyga actions is occurring alongside a rise in online hate speech and disinformation about Rohingya on social media in Indonesia. 

The number of photos and videos taken out of context to feed into a negative narrative about Rohingya refugees has exploded on Instagram and TikTok in recent months.

For example, a video that claims to show Rohingya refugees burning down a warehouse has gone viral on TikTok. We did a reverse image search on the footage (click here to find out how) to figure out when this footage first appeared online. Turns out, it actually shows a fire that took place back in 2020 in Cimahi, a town in the Indonesian province of West Java.

This is a screengrab of a video posted on TikTok. The caption, in Indonesian, says, “Rohingyas burned down this warehouse in Aceh because they weren’t given food.” © FRANCE 24 Observers

Another video, which has garnered more than 11 million views on TikTok since December, shows an enormous boat filled with passengers. The caption on the video reads: “Rohingyas are once again being transported from Bangladesh to Indonesia.” In reality, the footage shows a boat that carries out internal voyages within Bangladesh. You can see the name of the boat in the footage and, from there, we were able to find out its itinerary. It turns out that some of the footage of this boat was taken from a Bangladeshi YouTube channel.

This is a screengrab of a video published on TikTok that claims to show a boat filled with Rohingya refugees who have left Bangladesh bound for Indonesia.
This is a screengrab of a video published on TikTok that claims to show a boat filled with Rohingya refugees who have left Bangladesh bound for Indonesia. © FRANCE 24 Observers

‘Fake information linked to hate speech targets people’s emotions’ 

The Indonesian platform Mafindo investigated these two videos and uncovered their origins. Aribowo Sasmito, a journalist with Mafindo, says that there has been a sharp rise in fake information about the Rohingyas online in recent months :

Everything began with a series of TikTok videos that were made to look like they were from the UNHCR. It became so intense that the UNHCR had to speak out to say that these weren’t their videos.

In this thread posted on X, the United Nations in Indonesia warned social media users about fake information about the Rohingya published by accounts pretending to be the UNHCR. These fake accounts claimed, for example, that the UNHCR in Bangladesh gave special passes to Rohingya.


There are also more and more videos on Instagram and TikTok that paint the Rohingyas as ungrateful. 

The problem with these videos is that people allow themselves to be influenced without verifying them, especially anything that reaffirms the narrative that the Rohingya are bad.


There are common themes that emerge in these fake news items. One portrays Rohingyas as ungrateful for the help offered by Indonesians. Another common narrative is that they are all part of a human trafficking network. Another is that they are “fake” Muslims.


Because most Indonesians are very religious, faith is one of the main themes exploited by disinformation and hate speech. 

It is very difficult to dismantle fake information based on hate speech, because it targets people’s emotions. The easiest way to spread disinformation in a religious and family-orientated society like Indonesia is to integrate religion and racism into it.


Some posts compare the Rohingya refugees arriving in Indonesia with the situation in Israel and Gaza – but, in these posts, the Rohingya are portrayed as spoiling the land belonging to Indonesians. 

A fake UNHCR account, for example, seemed to claim that it was going to give the Rohingya an “empty island”. Another fake news item that is supposed to show boats filled with Rohingya refugees is captioned: “The situation in Israel is happening again here.” In actuality, however, the boats shown are Chinese fishing boats.

This is a screengrab of a video posted on TikTok that claims to show boats filled with Rohingya heading towards Indonesia. “Protect our seas from illegal Rohingya refugees,” reads the text.
This is a screengrab of a video posted on TikTok that claims to show boats filled with Rohingya heading towards Indonesia. “Protect our seas from illegal Rohingya refugees,” reads the text. © FRANCE 24 Observers

Some local NGOs are actually starting to believe this negative discourse about the Rohingya. Some of their members believe the narrative that the refugees are ungrateful and badly behaved.  

One reason for the increasingly negative view of the Rohingya in Aceh is an incident that took place in 2021 – three fishermen were imprisoned after they helped 99 Rohingya refugees trapped on a sinking boat. They were sentenced to five years in prison on human trafficking charges. There remains a sense of in injustice in Aceh and sometimes the Rohingya are blamed for this. 

In this impoverished region, the image of the refugees being “ungrateful” has spread quickly, explains journalist Sasmito :


The few isolated cases where a Rohingya refugee has been badly behaved end up being applied to the whole population. When people already have an aversion to another group, then they can be easily incited to share false information that reaffirms their beliefs.

There are also external factions that feed into this narrative, like when Indonesian president Joko Widodo said [in December 2023] that the number of Rohingya in the country had increased because of human trafficking.


In early January, a video clip that was shared more than 200,000 times made it look like the Indonesian president wanted to deport the Rohingya. But in the full speech, which was obtained by fact-checking outlet AFP factuel, Widodo doesn’t talk about deportation. He says that he wants to end human trafficking and that he is committed to providing temporary aid to the Rohingya “while prioritizing the interests of the local community”. 

‘The Rohingya have become scapegoats’  

The anti-Rohingya sentiment is also growing amid a backdrop of heightened nationalism and patriotism, with elections having been held on February 14. Chris Lewa, the president of the Arakan Project, an association dedicated to Rohingya rights, has kept a close eye on the evolution of this anti-Rohingya discourse online: 


When the first boat was prevented from landing [in November], the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a statement underscoring that Indonesia didn’t sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, which meant that they were under no international obligation to receive the Rohingya. His words have often been cited in anti-Rohingya discourse. 

However, the country does need to respect national laws [Editor’s note: which require the country to accept refugees, including a presidential decree from 2016].

Against the backdrop of presidential elections, the Rohingya have become scapegoats. 

[Faced with the rising tensions] the government said that they want to work with the UNHCR and the IOM but, in this climate, it hasn’t changed anything. Locals keep displacing the Rohingya and some of the Indonesian members of my association don’t want to go into the camps anymore. Some have even faced physical threat. It isn’t like that everywhere though, thankfully, and some villagers are still showing their support to the Rohingya refugees. 


Some journalists and analysts are speaking about what looks like a coordinated “campaign” of disinformation, but have, so far, been unable to determine who might be behind this. 

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The litigation funding industry is abusing the global legal system

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Malaysia’s experience of the Sulu case allowed us to see up close the violation and damage that resulted from the funding of vexatious claims, Azalina Othman Said writes.


The Government of Malaysia is engaged in a $14.92 billion (€13.85bn) legal dispute that challenges the sovereignty of the country. 

The matter involves a group of individuals self-proclaiming to be heirs to the defunct Sultanate of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram II, who received an arbitration award in February 2022 following their claim that Malaysia is in breach of a colonial-era land treaty involving North Borneo or Sabah, which today is an indisputable part of Malaysia.

Since then, Malaysia has faced an arduous and ongoing battle, incurring significant costs and the deployment of government resources to thwart the claimants’ frivolous claims and protect over 16% of our national budget. 

Malaysia’s position is unwavering — the case represents sophisticated abuse of the arbitration process that has no basis in law, and is nothing more than an attempt to extort a sovereign nation. I call this “The Sulu Fraud”.

Profit ahead of justice

One may question what relevance this case has to third-party litigation funding and the EU’s proposed regulation of the funding industry. 

The reality is that the Sulu case would not exist today without the involvement of a litigation funder, Therium, in bankrolling the claimants and their lawyers. Until today, we do not know how much the funder has spent. We do not know how the funder came to be involved. 

And we do not know how the funder came to an arrangement with a group of individuals who largely reside in the Philippines. However, we do know that they are putting profit ahead of justice.

The litigation funding industry has boomed in recent years across the world. According to some research, Europe’s share of the global litigation funding market is projected to reach nearly 16% of a total of $18bn (€16.7bn) by 2025. 

It has been suggested that the global market could surpass $57.2bn (€53bn) by 2035, as the number of individuals and corporations seeking financial investment in order to pursue legal claims grows exponentially.

I understand that litigation funding plays a pivotal role in providing access to justice. In legal disputes around the world, litigation costs can easily add up due to legal fees, the costs of going to court, and often other unforeseen costs when a party intends to litigate.

However, when an industry becomes worth several billion dollars, one begins to question whether access to justice remains a central tenet or if it is simply a convenient soundbite. 

It is evident that litigation funders are betting significant amounts with the hope of collecting a handsome share of the winnings. 

As funding agreements are commonly made in secret, counterparties involved in a dispute, including a judge, may be unaware of what funding is in place, where the money originates, and any potential conflicts of interest that may subsequently arise, unless in rare circumstances where the funded party voluntarily make the necessary disclosure.

Funding as a tool to wage legal warfare

The opaque nature of the litigation funding sector is a crucial factor in explaining why policymakers around the world should be concerned. 

Funding can serve as a tool through which claims receive funding, where the pursuit of justice is tainted by ulterior motives. 

This is even more true when a sovereign state is involved — whether on the receiving end of vexation claims or ultimately acting as a funder themselves to wage legal warfare.

Malaysia’s experience of the Sulu case allowed us to see up close the violation and damage that resulted from the funding of vexatious claims. 

Therium has turned a blind eye to a series of irregularities that have always been at the core of the Sulu case. 


These include the sentencing to jail of the arbitrator responsible earlier this year, Mr Gonzalo Stampa, who received over $2.7 million (€2.5m) from Therium for issuing the $14.92bn final award.

Recent decisions from the Paris Court of Appeal and the Hague Court of Appeal revealed that the tide has turned in Malaysia’s favour and the attempts to seize the country’s sovereign assets have also been fought off. 

That being said, it remains to be seen as to whether transparency and ultimately justice will prevail.

It’s time to put a stop to the misuse of third-party funding

As the European Parliament’s proposed regulation of third-party funding demonstrates, we cannot continue with the status quo. I have emphasized this during the series of bilateral meetings in my recent official visit to Brussels. 

I have expressed our interest in understanding in greater detail the European Parliament’s proposed regulation on third-party funding — a regulatory framework that we champion wholeheartedly as a result of the Sulu case. 


The bilateral meetings, among others, acknowledged the proliferation of abuses in arbitration, especially in light of the regulatory vacuum in the third-party litigation funding industry.

The time is ripe for transnational cooperation to combat the misuse of third-party funding solely for profit-orientated purposes, which subverts the pursuit of justice. 

In this respect, robust safeguards are urgently required to prevent abusive practices, curb excessive profit-seeking at the expense of justice, and introduce comprehensive oversight mechanisms as the sector matures.

I encourage our EU counterparts to move forward with their efforts to regulate the litigation funding industry, as it is only through concerted global actions and coordinated efforts of global leaders that abuses of the global legal system could be prevented. 

Azalina Othman Said serves as Minister of Law and Institutional Reform in the Government of Malaysia.


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Western nations could derail COP28 by usurping Loss and Damage Fund

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Loss and damage might end up in the dustbin of failed climate efforts — and with it, any hope of the support much of the world needs to contend with climate change and keep our planet within 1.5 degrees, Nik Nazmi bin Nik Ahmad writes.


My nation, Malaysia, is among those on the frontlines of climate change. But today I write not only as a representative of Malaysia but also as a voice for countless others across the Global South who find themselves in a similar predicament.

That’s because just two weeks ago, one of the most important climate meetings since COP27 took place — one that could potentially derail the most important COP Summit to date.

The Fourth Transnational Committee on Loss and Damage in Egypt ended in a deadlock over how the Loss and Damage Fund would work. 

Malaysia itself supported the decision at COP27 to make the operationalisation of the fund a permanent agenda item at COP28, especially given the incredible potential the fund has to transform how vulnerable nations adapt to climate change.

Unfortunately, last week, the US and other wealthy nations proposed the World Bank oversee the implementation of the Fund, which — rightfully — ignited a firestorm of outrage among the G77 nations.

After all, the US-headquartered World Bank is renowned for being sluggishly slow in responding to climate-related crises and natural disasters. 

But there’s also an undeniably political dimension lurking beneath this proposal. 

Establishing a fund under the World Bank’s purview, whose presidents are appointed directly by the US, would grant donor countries disproportionate sway over the fund and could potentially mean exorbitant fees for recipient nations.

It also enables Western nations to shirk their responsibility towards meaningful climate financing — allowing them to conveniently pass the buck to an institution with a track record of delays and inadequacies.

Eyes of the world on the West?

The understandable frustration towards developed Western nations was apparent even in COP President Dr Sultan Al Jaber’s comments when he reminded committee members, that the “eyes of the world” were on them. 

In his words, “billions of people, lives and livelihoods who are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, depend upon the successful delivery” of appropriate measures.

A follow-up pre-COP meeting has been scheduled for this Friday. That meeting may well be the global community’s last opportunity to agree on crucial details for loss and damage — one that if not capitalised upon, would fracture the global cooperation and foundation necessary to meet the crucial 1.5-degree target the world depends upon.

This is why the Loss and Damage Fund is too important to become a tool of political influence.

What this week’s follow-up meeting should be discussing is how to actualise an independent body, operating under international law, to oversee the Loss and Damage fund. 

This body should include the implementation of The Santiago Network, which facilitates technical assistance to address loss and damage, especially in vulnerable developing countries. 

Such an arrangement would grant Global South nations the autonomy to access vital funds swiftly and without the uncertainties associated with the World Bank.

Not allowing access to the Loss and Damage Fund could cause further damage

Yes, critics argue wealthy nations should control these funds on the basis of vulnerability criteria, but that is a flawed approach. 

Middle-income countries, like Malaysia and Bangladesh, are far from immune to climate-related catastrophes. 


Excluding us from access to the Loss and Damage Fund threatens to create divisions within the Global South. 

Instead, we should be directed by the Common But Differentiated Responsibility and Respective Capability (CBDR-RC) rule which states that all countries should tackle climate change, wealthier industrialised nations that have contributed most to global emissions (and also profited most) carry a heavier financial burden.

After all, my nation alone needs hundreds of billions of euros over the next 50 years to confront the climate crisis. And developing nations overall will need trillions. 

As such, the Loss and Damage Fund is a lifeline that should not be subject to the whims and bureaucracy of distant institutions.

The dustbin of failed climate efforts

There is, however, real hope that we can reverse course. This COP presidency has tabled one of the most pro-climate financing agendas to date. 


According to an analysis by Turkey’s Üsküdar University, COP28 aims to fulfil all previous COP financing commitments, including doubling adaptation finance by 2025, securing the $100 billion (€93.9bn) already pledged, and reforming the international financial architecture to unlock further trillions of low-cost investments.

Ultimately, we must operate not within existing archaic and politically compromised structures but be bold enough to create entirely new structures capable of meeting the unprecedented needs of vulnerable nations struggling against climate change.

This is why the COP Presidency’s support of the Bridgetown Initiative calling for a more inclusive and equitable global financial system is so promising.

This would mean reforming the Bretton Woods institutions, creating a new global development bank, and establishing an entirely new global financial transaction tax.

But for it to become reality requires the support of industrialised Western nations and a radical departure from the norm. 


The survival of our planet calls for it. The alternative? Loss and damage might end up in the dustbin of failed climate efforts — and with it, any hope of the support much of the world needs to contend with climate change and keep our planet within 1.5 degrees.

Nik Nazmi bin Nik Ahmad serves as the Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change of Malaysia. He is a Member of Parliament for Setiawangsa.

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Is Brussels paying attention to Malaysia’s vocal support of Hamas?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Should the Malaysian government continue to support Hamas, the EU should make it clear that Kuala Lumpur’s economic relations with the European bloc will suffer as a result, Lord Simon Isaacs writes.


The shock of Hamas’ surprise attack on and incursion into Israel on 7 October which systematically targeted and killed more than 1,300 civilians and triggered a war with Israel, quickly reverberated around the world.

Some 100 countries that released an official statement on the matter were split into three camps: those that unequivocally condemn Hamas’ undeniable act of terrorism and support Israel’s right to defend itself, those that condemn violence on both sides but decry Hamas, and those who put the blame on Israel and/or outright support Hamas.

Official statements from the state of Malaysia and its Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim echoed sentiments of the small albeit firm latter group, blaming Israel for the confrontation, and not only omitting critical statements of Hamas but outright refusing to yield on the matter at the request of Western countries. 

Kuala Lumpur among the few

Indonesia is the only other Muslim-majority nation in Southeast Asia that voiced similar opinions to Malaysia. 

In the Middle East and North Africa region, Iran, Syria and Algeria all expressed their support for Hamas while Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan condemned Israel. 

The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy stand on the opposite end of the spectrum, whose officials jointly and strongly condemned Hamas and pledged their countries’ support for Israel. 

Member states of the European Union joined a broader Western group of countries as part of a joint statement issued by the European Council. 

In a show of unwavering support, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola travelled to Israel on 13 October to express their solidarity.

Kuala Lumpur’s stance is particularly problematic in light of previous reports that uncovered a training program in Malaysia from 2012 that coached Hamas fighters on how to fly powered parachutes. 

One of the novelties of Hamas’ coordinated attack on Israel was the launch of multiple motorised paragliders into Israel, who descended to kill people indiscriminately, including attendees of the Nova music festival, among whom more than 250 — mostly young — people were massacred. 

Hamas militants killed children, women and elderly people on Israel’s streets, in their homes, and dragged nearly 200 hostages to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas support ‘a core foreign policy’?

Furthermore, Malaysian PM Ibrahim remains the only state leader, besides the regime in Tehran, that acknowledged its ties with Hamas, declaring in the follow-up to the attack that “[Malaysia has] a relationship with Hamas from before, and this will continue.” 

The prime minister, his deputy, and the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs all conflated Hamas’ terrorist attack with a legitimate Palestinian resistance movement to settle Palestinians’ long-standing historical disagreements with Israel. 

“The struggle to liberate the land and rights of the Palestinian people will remain a core priority of the Malaysian government’s foreign policy”, according to Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Arguments that Hamas’ terror attack was justified due to years of frustration in the wake of Israel’s security policies towards the Gaza Strip are based on completely dubious foundations. 

Hamas’ Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement from 1988 expressly founded the organisation for the purpose of the obliteration of Israel through jihad, also calling for the killing of Jews and rejecting any and all peace initiatives for the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Support for and indeed any affiliation with Hamas are contradictory to the EU’s most cherished normative principles, which, alongside the bloc’s economic prowess, has distinguished the organisation as a steadfast and effective actor in the world. 

The EU’s democratic principles should also apply to Malaysia

Counter-terrorism constitutes one of the pillars of the EU’s External Action and the distinction between the terrorist group Hamas and Palestinian civilians living in the Gaza Strip must be made clear.


The EU’s widely known commitment to promoting democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms in all its external relations, including in its foreign economic policies, should also be applied to Malaysia. 

While negotiations between Malaysia and the EU on a potential Free Trade Agreement (FTA) have been stalled since 2012, they did finalise a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in December 2022, strengthening cooperation in the areas of trade and investment, energy as well as politics. 

Following a period of decline during the years of the pandemic, the value of imports from the EU to Malaysia reached €35.3 billion in 2022, making up 12.6% of all imports and concentrated in electronic equipment, machinery and nuclear components. In turn, Malaysia’s exports to the EU grew by a significant 21.8% in 2022.

The EU should emphasise its common values in its economic relations with Malaysia, especially in light of the potential expansion of trade and investment ties between them. 

Should the Malaysian government continue to support Hamas, the EU should make it clear that Malaysia’s economic relations with the European bloc will suffer as a result.


Malaysia, the latest pariah state

Of course, a corresponding cost of economic restrictions is political in nature. 

The insistence of the Malaysian government on its ties with Hamas and its continued rhetorical support for the extremist organisation should result in a degree of political isolation by Brussels and, more broadly, its Western partners, including Washington, a long-standing ally and one of the largest trading partners of Malaysia.

The recognition of Hamas as a legitimate Palestinian resistance movement by Malaysia’s government officials not only blurs the lines between militants and Palestinian civilians living in the Gaza Strip but provides a platform for an organisation whose explicit goals are to cause destruction and sow chaos. 

With the statements of PM Ibrahim and Deputy Prime Minister Hamidi, Malaysia has joined a small albeit notable group of pariah countries and leaders in granting support to Hamas, including the likes of the radical Islamist regime of Iran, Syria’s war criminal President Bashar al-Assad and Algeria’s pro-Russian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

The Most Hon. Marquess of Reading Lord Simon Isaacs is the Chairman of the Barnabas Foundation.


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Vietnam Bans Barbie Movie, Because ‘Map’

If there’s one thing we learned from “The West Wing,” it’s that Democrats need to find Republicans of goodwill who are willing to put America above partisan bickering, and … wait, that’s bullshit. But the episode where the “Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality” explained that maps can be very political, that one holds up pretty good. The Mercator projection really has encouraged “an imperialist European attitude for centuries and has created ethnic prejudices against the Third World,” and anyone who says otherwise is itchin’ for a fight.

Naturally enough, that brings us to the new Barbie movie directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie as the eponymous fashion doll. The trailer is ridiculously fun, but includes a detail that seems to have led the nation of Vietnam to ban distribution of the film. Namely, a cartoony world map includes a little bitty dashed line off the coast of “Asia,” and Vietnam says that means the movie endorses China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Here’s the trailer; the blink-and-you’ll miss it offense to Vietnam’s sovereignty appears at roughly the 1-minute mark, when Laurie Anderson Barbie Kate McKinnon Barbie advises Main Character Barbie she must go to the Real World and learn how human feet operate, we think.

The movie had been scheduled to open in Vietnam July 21, but Vietnam’s state media announced that the government banned the film Monday, as the AP explains:

The reports cited Vi Kien Thanh, director general of the Vietnam Cinema Department, as saying the National Film Evaluation Council made the decision. It said a map in the film shows China’s “nine-dash line,” which extends Beijing’s territorial claims far into waters that fall within areas claimed by Vietnam and other countries.

The “nine-dash line” is an arcane but sensitive issue for China and its neighbors that shows Beijing’s maritime border extending into areas claimed by other governments and encompasses most of the South China Sea. That has brought it into tense standoffs with the ASEAN nations of Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, with Chinese fishing boats and military vessels becoming more aggressive in the disputed waters.

Here’s a map, drawn by professors Mark Raymond of the University of Oklahoma and David A. Welch of the University of Waterloo, in Canada-land, for their paper “What’s Really Going On in the South China Sea?” You can see why Vietnamese officials mockingly call the area claimed by China the “cow-tongue line.”

Map by Mark Raymond and David A. Welch

We should also point out that the map in the trailer only has eight dashes, so perhaps it depicts some other planet altogether.

State newspaper Vietnam Plus said that the inclusion of the squiggle in a cartoon map “distorts the truth, violates the law in general and violates sovereignty of Vietnamese territory in particular,” although it remains unclear how exactly the Barbie movie could in practical terms make the international boundary dispute any worse. The UN seems unlikely to determine that China can fish in the area because International Incident Barbie said so in a one-second clip.

Still, national pride and all that; no doubt patriotic Americans would be very put out if a Saudi-owned “news” network depicted part of the United States as belonging to a foreign country.

Screenshot of a 2020 Fox News map with Michigan's Upper Peninsula labeled

The AP reports that Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning, when asked about the matter Tuesday, did not consider life in plastic so fantastic, adding that

“China’s position on the South China Sea issue is clear and consistent.”

“We believe that the countries concerned should not link the South China Sea issue with normal cultural and people-to-people exchanges”

For what it’s worth — very little, since China ignored the decision altogether — a 2016 international tribunal in the Hague found China’s territorial claims to the waters had no merit, but as we just said in what’s now a redundant part of this sentence, China rejected the judgment and continues to claim the area.

So far, nobody involved with the movie has commented on how the controversial squiggle came to be included, although China is notorious for having its own angry reactions to western entertainment or sportsball players who express support for Hong Kong or Taiwan. Our own very deep foreign policy analysis concludes that somebody on the production staff said “well, better include the squiggle if we want to show this in China,” figuring that revenues from China would more than make up for any losses in Vietnam.

There’s nothing terribly new about this, either: Vietnam previously banned the 2022 film Uncharted and 2019’s Abominable for maps showing the Chinese Domination Squiggle. In fact, the scene in the latter completely forgettable kid flick led politicians in the Philippines to call for a boycott of all DreamWorks films, and Malaysia refused to distribute the movie until the scene was cut altogether.

As it happens, Vietnam also launched an investigation this week into the K-Pop group “Blackpink” because a website for its Vietnamese tour included a similarly offensive map. The tour organizer called the incident an “unfortunate misunderstanding” and pledged that the website had been updated, although the site remains down, Reuters reports.

Also, in the latest wrinkle of this developing international crisis, the Philippines is debating whether to ban Barbie as well.

How silly all these foreigns are, launching boycotts and censoring an innocent entertainment over such a nothingburger!

Meanwhile, in the Freest, Greatest, Most Liberty-est Nation on Earth, we’re firing teachers and banning books over the fear that encouraging everyone to get along and accept each other’s differences will lead to nine-year-olds falling into a life of depravity, or because schools might accurately depict our very real history.

Also, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) has now twice condemned the Barbie movie, tweeting yesterday that

Leftist Hollywood’s new ‘Barbie’ movie shows a map that supports Communist China’s territorial claims to the South China Sea.

Looks like ‘Barbie’ is bending to Beijing to make a quick buck.

Blackburn followed that up today by insisting that we all take her seriously, since a fun summer movie about a pop culture icon is actually causing human rights abuses, no really she is serious, if that squiggle were removed, the camps would be opened and the Uyghurs would be freed.

Hollywood & the Left are more concerned with selling films in Communist China than standing up to the regime’s human rights abuses.

The ‘Barbie’ movie’s depiction of a map endorsing Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea is legally & morally wrong and must be taken seriously.

Strangely, not a single Republican has stepped forward to demand that Mattel include realistic genitals on Ken and Barbie, since surely the dolls as they’ve existed for 70 years encourage androgyny.

[AP / NYT / CNBC / Reuters / Sage Journals]

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Cannes spotlights Cameroonian film: ‘It’s high time African stories influence world cinema’

From our special correspondent in Cannes – The Cannes Film Festival delivered its first honours on Thursday with a historic prize for Malaysia’s “Tiger Stripes” while African movies continued to enjoy the Cannes spotlight with the screening of “Mambar Pierrette”, an intimate portrait of a free-spirited seamstress and single mother in Cameroon. Its director, Rosine Mbakam, sat for an interview with FRANCE 24. 

Issued on:

With the race for the Palme d’Or now in the final stretch ahead of Saturday’s closing ceremony, the 76th Cannes Film Festival made history on Thursday by rewarding Amanda Nell Eu’s playfully subversive debut feature, “Tiger Stripes” – the first movie by a female Malaysian director to screen at Cannes.   

coming-of-age drama about female puberty inspired by the body-horror genre, “Tiger Stripes” scooped the top award in the Critics’ Week sidebar, dedicated to first and second films. The jury was led by French director Audrey Diwan, whose abortion drama “Happening” won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival two years ago.  



The Malaysian filmmaker won plaudits in Cannes for her bold take on menstruation and the trauma endured by young girls ostracised by their communities. While the film is set in a rural and conservative environment, Eu told FRANCE 24 it carried a universal message. 

“There are so many parts of the world where women or young girls fear their own bodies or don’t have ownership of their bodies,” she said following the film’s premiere. “Telling the story of what happens to young girls is incredibly universal.” 

>> Read more: Malaysian tweens earn their ‘Tiger Stripes’ in Cannes body horror

Films about the challenges of adolescence also picked up the remaining prizes in the Critics’ Week segment. Belgian director Paloma Sermon-Daï won the runner-up Jury Award for “It’s Raining in the House”, which follows two siblings as they experience first love and learn to fend for themselves, while Serbia’s teenage sensation Jovan Ginic won the Revelation Award for his part in “Lost Country”, about a 15-year-old’s showdown with his mother – a senior official in the administration of former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic. 

Mother courage in Douala 

In the festival’s other segments, Africa’s “Cannes Moment” continued with the screening of films from two countries that are seldom represented at the world’s leading movie gatherings. 

“Omen” (“Augure”), a promising debut feature by the Belgian-Congolese rapper Baloji, mined the themes of displacement and ostracism through a set of characters who have been rejected by their communities following accusations of witchcraft. Its screening in the Un Certain Regard sidebar marked the first time a film from the Democratic Republic of Congo premiered at Cannes. 

Encore in Cannes! © AFP

In the Directors’ Fortnight, which runs parallel to the main festival, Rosine Mbakam’s “Mambar Pierrette” painted an intimate portrait of a Cameroonian seamstress and single mother struggling to make ends meet against a backdrop of social hardship and the threat of floods.  

Pierrette Aboheu Njeuthat stars as the titular character, a mother of three who works tirelessly at her sewing machine to provide for her children while customers and neighbours linger in her small shop, sharing their joys and disappointments in a deftly woven tapestry of communal life in the city of Douala. 

A remarkable debut feature based on the life of Mbakam’s seamstress cousin, “Mambar Pierrette” draws on the director’s experience of documentary filmmaking, which has previously explored the themes of kinship and migration to Europe. FRANCE 24 spoke to the filmmaker about her focus on character studies and her commitment to promoting African stories in the moviemaking industry.  

“Mambar Pierrette” is your first feature-length fiction film, although it is based on your cousin’s life. Where do you draw the line between documentary and fiction? 

I drew inspiration from Pierrette’s life to write the script, placing it at the very heart of the film. Once we started shooting, the other characters also added their input, bringing the screenplay closer to their own lives.  

Fiction never takes over. Its role is to add substance to the narrative and provide more context. In particular, the fictional element helps underscore the fact that Pierrette’s social predicament is not only a result of her small income, her husband’s irresponsibility or Cameroon’s politics. It is also derived from an enduring neo-colonialism that leaves swaths of the population in poverty. 

“Mambar Pierrette” director Rosine Mbakam (left) pictured with her cousin Pierrette Aboheu, the film’s protagonist. © David Rich

The fabric shop is at the heart of your film. What does it symbolise? 

My film tells the story of Pierrette, who is a seamstress in real life. Sewing embellishes, it brings people together, and her workshop is a place where people open up and share their secrets. I wanted to highlight the value of this work of dressmaking and transformation, which has all but vanished in the West. We shop, but we have lost this relationship with what we wear. 

The sewing room also represents gender relationships in Cameroon. The men remain in the entrance, at the door, while the women establish themselves in the workshop, inhabiting the space. These opposing stances signal the contrast between a new generation of women who are increasingly assertive and men who don’t accept this reality – and are therefore in a vulnerable situation. Pierrette doesn’t sew for women only, she works for everyone, her workspace excludes nobody. By keeping at a distance, the men seek to protect themselves and avoid questioning their position in society.

This year’s festival has witnessed a breakthrough for African films, carried by a new generation of female filmmakers, in particular. Does this give a particular significance to your presence in Cannes?   

It is indeed very important to me. We know how much Western cinema has influenced Africa and continues to do so. It is high time that our works travel in the opposite direction and influence world cinema – introducing new narratives, different ways of speaking French, and characters we are not accustomed to seeing. The West must get used to all of this. 

There is a lot happening in African cinema, but these productions are scarcely visible in Europe. Africa is awash with European and American films, but how many films make it out of Africa? That’s why our selection at the Cannes Film Festival is so important. This is the best way for our films to be seen in France, Italy or elsewhere. Without these festivals we cannot export our works. I’m immensely proud to see so many African movies here in Cannes this year. 

Mali’s Souleymane Cissé has spoken of a Western “contempt” for African films. What are your thoughts on the way the film industry looks at the continent? 

The film industry tends to follow preconceived ideas. The few African films that make it abroad are often filmed by Westerners who, in reality, are merely filming themselves. Such films often show Africa without African people. I was interested in filming Pierrette, but people often ask me why I didn’t show more of the neighbourhood in my film. I don’t blame them, because that’s what they are used to. They have this image of a continent blighted by poverty and they want to feed that image. But I’m not going to change my way of filming. Pierrette is the focus of my film; she dictates the rhythm, the narrative and the camera’s movements. 

People who attended the festival will go home with seven African films on their minds – not one or two, as is usually the case. This is huge. These stories will feed the West but also the imagination of young Africans, who will see their stories valued beyond their continent. 

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Malaysian tweens earn their ‘Tiger Stripes’ in Cannes coming-of-age body horror

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From our special correspondent in Cannes – A young girl’s experience of puberty gets the body-horror treatment in Amanda Nell Eu’s playfully rebellious “Tiger Stripes”, the first feature by a Malaysian female director to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. FRANCE 24 spoke to Eu about the making of the movie and its universal message.

A bold and stirring debut feature, “Tiger Stripes” offered an original take on the experience of menstrual metamorphosis – and a welcome distraction from the relentless rain that has dampened the mood here in Cannes.

Its Cannes screening, part of the Critics’ Week sidebar, was met with warm applause from a large and varied audience that included teenage pupils on a school outing.

One student said she saw a “universal message” in the film, noting that “difference isn’t always accepted – in France, too”. Another said it was important that male students saw it as well, though joking that “the boys in the class probably didn’t get the message”.

There are hardly any male characters in this female-centred movie, aside from a sweet but apathetic father and a charlatan guru who takes it upon himself to “drive the monster” out of the film’s menstruating protagonist – live on social media.

“Tiger Stripes” is powered by an exhilarating trio of TikTok-savvy first-time actresses whom Eu and her casting director initially reached out to on social media, owing to Covid-19 restrictions.

From left to right: Feisty trio Piqa, Deena Ezral and Zafreen Zairizal in Cannes for the premiere of “Tiger Stripes”. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24

Set largely in the strict environment of a Muslim school for girls, it explores the wildly shifting dynamics at play between feisty 12-year-old Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal) and her two best friends once she gets her period and starts experiencing other, frightening bodily changes that lead to her ostracisation.

Rejecting or taming the “monster” in Zaffan is as cruel as it is futile, the movie points out, in a defiant call to lift taboos on the female body and sexuality.

Can you talk us through the premise of your film and why you chose to draw on the monster genre?

I love to tell stories that are inspired by my own body and emotions, and that’s how it really started. I was thinking about what it was like when I was growing up, with puberty. It’s my weird sense of humour that to me puberty is like a body horror [film], because one night you look one way and then the next day you wake up and things have grown on you – and if you don’t know what’s happening to you it can be quite terrifying. I remember it was quite violent the way I rejected my changes and really didn’t want it to happen.

As a young girl you’re always told that you’re emotional, you’re hysterical. But you’re really going through a lot of things and sometimes you’re labelled as a monster. And so I thought, ‘Let me show a young girl who really does turn into a monster and what a monster really is’.

Why did you opt for a rural Malaysian setting?

I really wanted to tell a fairy tale and in that sense you never really know in what village or part of Malaysia it is. It’s always this idea of ‘once upon a time there was a young girl who lived far, far away’. Of course we have the jungle, society surrounded by wild nature, and I thought that was a nice idea for a fairy tale.

“Tiger Stripes” director Amanda Nell Eu. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24

What would you say is specifically Malaysian, or Southeast Asian, about your film, in terms of its setting, themes and influences?

There’s the idea that monsters, ghosts or spirits – we have many names for them – are very much part of our community, and they’re also very much linked to nature. We believe there are many spirits living in trees, in waterfalls, in rivers. That was very inspiring, because I absolutely love the power that nature has. And to have that represented in a young girl was very exciting.

Of course the folk tales, the monsters, even the prosthetics were an homage to Malaysian B-movies from the 1950s and ‘60s, by the Shaw Brothers in particular. Those movies were always very gnarly and strange, and that was definitely something that I wanted to show on-screen.

How much did the film’s young cast inform and shape your movie during filming?

A lot! Of course I wrote the script and had my ideas of how it was going to be, but you throw all that away when you start auditioning and meeting talents. I love that they would always surprise me with their own personalities, their own experiences. It was very important to be with them every step of the way, moving with them, because they have so much energy that they want to unleash.

It’s also very much part of my personality. I do like crazy colours and bizarre things, and my personality worked well with the girls’ energy. I’m so connected to the girls; we could share and open up on whatever we were feeling. When we watched the film together yesterday it was so emotional just looking at their faces.


There’s a lot of love and hate between the girls on-screen; was it important to show that sorority is not a given?

I grew up in all-girls schools, so I know the experience where you love and support your best friend but you also really hate her and there’s jealousy and miscommunication. They go hand in hand and I love exploring female friendships that way. That was the balance of the film: to show both love and jealousy, and differences, and how you overcome that and support each other.

Zaffan’s is a lonely journey but it was important to show that you’re not alone if you share your experiences and stand proud.

It’s a universal message?

Telling the story of what happens to young girls is incredibly universal. There are so many parts of the world where women or young girls fear their own bodies or don’t have ownership of their bodies. There [are] people in power always dictating what they’re supposed to look like, what they’re supposed to wear, what they’re allowed to do and how they’re supposed to behave. It’s not just in Malaysia, it’s all over the world.

How does it feel to be the first female director from Malaysia with a feature here in Cannes?

It’s a mixed feeling. I don’t want to be pinpointed as a woman and yet at the same time I represent that voice and I’m so happy that I get to have my crazy voice represented here, because we don’t have that many female directors back home. It has also been many years since a Malaysian film has been represented in Cannes and so I hope this will help pave the way for more films that make it to the international market.


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I asked ChatGPT to help me plan a vacation. Here’s what happened next

Some people love travel planning.

But I am not one of those people.

So the idea that artificial intelligence chatbots, such as ChatGPT and Bing, can research travel destinations and create itineraries is intriguing.

But I’m skeptical too.

Do recommendations just scratch the surface — for example, suggesting that I see the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Or can they recommend lesser-known restaurants and handle specific hotel requests too?

The answer is: yes and no — at least for ChatGPT.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t test Bing. When I tried to access it, I was put on a waiting list. The website said I could “get ahead in the line” if I set Microsoft defaults on my computer and scanned a QR code to install the Bing app. I did both. I’m still waiting.

ChatGPT was easier. I went to the developer’s website, clicked on the word “ChatGPT,” registered for an account — and started chatting.

‘Can you help me plan a beach trip?’

“Of course!” replied ChatGPT. But first, I needed to tell it about my interests, budget and how long I planned to be away.

I’m looking for a week-long beach trip in mid-March to spend time with my family, with no set budget, I typed.

“Sounds like a wonderful idea!” it replied, before recommending Hawaii, the Caribbean — specifically the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic — Florida and Costa Rica, along with details about the weather and popular attractions for each.

Nice. But I live in Singapore, I said.

“I see!” it exclaimed. (ChatGPT loves exclamation points.) In that case, Bali, Indonesia; Langkawi, Malaysia; and Phuket and Krabi in Thailand were better choices.

ChatGPT is nothing if not apologetic.

Cost estimates for each hotel were more accurate. But ChatGPT couldn’t show photographs of the hotels or help book them — although it did provide ample instructions on how to do both.

By road or by rail?


ChatGPT can name airlines that connect cities, but it can’t give current flight information or help book flights.  

It wasn’t able to tell me the cheapest fare — or any fare — from London to New York this spring because it doesn’t “have access to real-time pricing information,” it said.

In fact, ChatGPT data ends at September 2021; it doesn’t “know” anything that’s happened since.

However, the bot could answer which month the London-to-New York route is usually the cheapest, which it said is “January and February, or during the shoulder season months of March and November.”

As for the best airline in the world, it said: “As an AI language model, I cannot have personal preferences or opinions.” But it went on to name the top five airlines named to Skytrax’s “World’s Top 100 Airlines” in 2021.

The list wasn’t correct.

The list provided by ChatGPT appears to be Skytrax’s airline ranking from 2019 instead.  

“Where should I eat?”

Specific questions

I had many more questions for ChatGPT, such as:

“How should I spend five days in South Africa?”
“Which chateaux accept visitors in Bordeaux?”
“If I only have one day in London, what should I do?”
“Which rides have the longest lines at Disney World?”

But before I could, my screen said “Access denied” alongside an “error code 1020” message.

This error may be caused by overloaded servers or by exceeding the daily limit, according to the tech website Stealth Optional. Either way, all of my previous chats were inaccessible, a huge negative for travelers in the middle of the planning process.

A new window didn’t fix the problem, but opening one in “incognito mode” did. Once in, I clicked on “Upgrade to Plus,” which showed that the free plan is available when demand is low, but for $20 per month, the “Plus plan” gives access to ChatGPT all the time, faster responses and priority to use new features.

With access again, I quickly asked about wait times on Disney World rides, a subject which I had spoken to luxury travel advisor Jonathan Alder of Jonathan’s Travels about last week. Alder lives close to the park and has lost count of how many times he’s visited, he said. Yet, only one of their answers — Epcot’s “Frozen Ever After” — overlapped.

ChatGPT mentioned that FastPass and Genie+ can reduce wait times at Disney World, which is partly right. The company phased out its “skip the line” virtual queue FastPass program when it introduced Genie+ in the fall of 2021.

The takeaway

ChatGPT is fast, chatty and feels like you’re interacting with a human. I found myself responding with unnecessary pleasantries — “Ok, sure” and “Thank you” — out of habit.

I could see how it could save travelers’ time, especially if they are looking for an overview or are at the early stages of planning.

But information will need to be current, of course — and bugs and error messages, which I faced several times in addition to the “1020” message mentioned above — will need to be fixed.

OpenAI states that the current ChatGPT version “is a free research preview.” It also says the system may “occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information” and that it’s “not intended to give advice.”

When I asked it about its travel planning abilities, it said it “can assist with many aspects of travel planning” but that it may not be able to “provide personalized advice based on your unique circumstances.”

My verdict: Travel agents’ jobs are secure for the time being.

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