Global brands offer groveling apologies to China
The NBA, Cathay Pacific, Dolce & Gabbana — the list goes on as companies forget to refer to Taiwan and Hong Kong’s control by China
Beijing — The US National Basketball Association (NBA) is far from being the first foreign business to be benched by Beijing for touching a politically sensitive subject.
From airlines to luxury brands and car makers, numerous companies have had to apologise or face bans and boycotts for offending China’s views on semi-autonomous Hong Kong and self-ruled Taiwan.
The latest offender is the Houston Rockets after GM Daryl Morey tweeted a message of support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Chinese state TV and sponsors dropped the Rockets.
Then, on Tuesday, China Central TV (CCTV) suspended plans to broadcast a pair of NBA pre-season exhibition games being staged in China.
The league has been accused by US politicians of kowtowing to Beijing for apologising over Morey’s comments, but commissioner Adam Silver later said the league supported his right to express his opinions.
Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times issued a blunt warning in an editorial on Tuesday: “Global brands best avoid politics”.
Here are some of the recent high-profile cases.
Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific was heavily pressured in a campaign led by state-run media in August after Chinese authorities deemed the airline’s staff too vocal in their support of the protesters.
The airline’s then-chair John Slosar initially insisted he “wouldn’t dream” of telling his staff what to think — but Chinese threats to blacklist the carrier forced a U-turn and Slosar stepped down last month.
In recent weeks staff have described deleting their social media accounts, fearful that colleagues might inform on them while Cathay announced it had sacked several staff linked to the protests.
Under pressure from Beijing, a growing number of companies and international airlines — including Delta and American Airlines — have also edited their websites to refer to the self-ruling democratic island of Taiwan as “Taiwan, China” or “Chinese Taipei”.
Hotel chain Marriott’s website in China was also shut down by the authorities for a week in 2018 after a customer questionnaire listed Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong as separate countries, prompting the hotel chain to apologise and change the wording.
Luxury fashion brands Versace, Coach, and Givenchy all apologised in August for making perceived affronts to China’s national sovereignty with T-shirts listing Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries.
Versace, in its grovelling apology, said the offending T-shirts were “destroyed” and Givenchy said the brand “resolutely upholds the one China principle”.
This followed a major flare-up in May 2018, when Chinese social media users targeted US clothing retailer Gap over a T-shirt showing a map of mainland China that omitted Taiwan.
According to the Boston Consulting Group, Chinese consumers snapped up 32% of all luxury goods sold worldwide in 2018, and the figure is expected to grow to 40% by 2024.
German camera maker Leica drew fire over an advertisement in April that broached the taboo subject of the 1989 Tiananmen protest crackdown, weeks before the 30th anniversary of the incident in early June.
The ad shows the struggles of a photographer to get in place for the famed “tank man” photo, showing an ordinary citizen facing down a line of Chinese army tanks, before the demonstrations were violently suppressed. The company distanced itself from the advertisement saying it was not officially sanctioned by Leica.
Earlier in 2018, German vehicle maker Mercedes-Benz apologised for “hurting the feelings” of people in China after its Instagram account quoted exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who is seen as a separatist by Beijing.
Insulting Chinese culture
Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana issued a mea culpa last year after its products were pulled from lucrative Chinese e-commerce platforms over racially offensive social media posts.
The controversy arose in November after the firm posted short clips on Instagram showing a woman eating pizza and spaghetti with chopsticks, which critics said was culturally insensitive. It escalated when company co-founder Stefano Gabbana allegedly used poop emojis to describe China and hurled insults at the country and its people.
The brand’s founders eventually apologised to customers but said Gabbana’s account had been hacked. A search for Dolce & Gabbana products on major Chinese e-commerce sites such as Alibaba’s Tmall and JD.com still turn up no results.