The Disney-owned sports network ESPN aired the Communist Party’s preferred map of China during a broadcast Wednesday morning – a map an international legal tribunal ruled illegal in 2016 that violates the sovereignty of five different countries.

The map is typically known as the “nine-dash line” version of the map of China due to its dubious dotted lines deep into the South China Sea, claiming parts of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the entirety of Taiwan for the Communist Party. Reuters noted ESPN’s version included ten dashes and that ESPN had previously not used the illegal map on its broadcasts.

The use of the map follows the revelation this week ESPN commanded its employees to not be critical of Chinese communist regime, currently responsible for widespread human rights abuses against nearly every ethnic and religious minority in the country.

A keen observer on Twitter shared images of the map from the Wednesday morning edition of Sportcenter, the network’s flagship sports news show. The map was shown in the context of a report on basketball player LeBron James arriving in Shanghai for an exhibition match amid the turmoil following an NBA executive’s public declaration of support for the pro-democracy protests currently underway in Hong Kong.

ESPN’s map includes China’s illegal claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands – which belong to Vietnam and the Philippines – Manila’s Scarborough Shoal, and the waters off of Malaysia and Brunei. The map cuts through one of the world’s richest trade routes and through territory replete with oil and gas resources and fisheries.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

China staked its claim to the region claiming that it has been Chinese since “ancient times.” The government of the Philippines sued China in international court after China began acting on its claims, building artificial islands in the territory of Vietnam and the Philippines and equiping them with military assets. Chinese coast guard and government-supported private ships have also regularly partaken in violent acts against Philippine and Vietnamese civilian ships navigating their domestic waters.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled China’s artificial island construction was illegal and the “nine-dash line” was not a real, enforceable Chinese border. The Communist Party announced it would ignore the legal ruling.

ESPN is now using a map that violates international law.

The broadcast followed a report by Deadspin that revealed an internal memo to employees of ESPN warned them against talking about the Hong Kong protests or Chinese politics on air, significantly compromising their ability to discuss the biggest story in sports today: Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey writing “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” on Twitter.

The Rockets forced Morey to issue an effusive apology to the Communist Party and offered one itself as a team. The NBA has also apologized on Morey’s behalf. NBA security officials have expelled individuals from games this week for arriving with pro-Hong Kong shirts and signs, which do not violate any stated NBA policy.

Chinese state media have compared the Hong Kong protests, in which only Hong Kong police and pro-China mobs have engaged in violence and no deaths have been recorded, to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly bullied international corporations for using accurate maps of China. Last year, the American clothing company Gap issued a profuse apology for a t-shirt that showed a real map of China. The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, published the shirt alongside images of the map ESPN used.

Coach, Givenchy, and Versace have been forced to issue similar apologies.

ESPN’s parent company Disney makes billions in business with China. The NBA does, as well, and is currently operating a “training camp” in Xinjiang province, China – home to hundreds of concentration camps holding millions of Chinese Muslim ethnic minorities and subjecting them to torture, slavery, rape, and murder.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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