Swarovski apologised after it listed Hong Kong as a separate country on its website. (AFP: Shan he)
A slew of international brands that had labelled Hong Kong as a separate country from the mainland have apologised to China following a backlash from Chinese celebrities and consumers.
- International retailers have apologised to China over referring to Hong Kong and Taiwan as independent countries
- A number of high-profile Chinese celebrity ambassadors have severed ties with the brands
- The blunders come at a time of heightened tensions between China and Hong Kong
Austrian jewellery company Swarovski was the latest luxury label to get into hot water over political issues in China, which has become more assertive in its territorial claims and how it expects foreign companies doing businesses in China to describe them.
The brand posted an apology on its Facebook page on Tuesday, saying that it took “full responsibility” and “sincerely apologises to the people of China” after it listed Hong Kong as a separate country on its website.
The public apology came just days after several other high-end retailers, including as Calvin Klein, Givenchy and Asics, apologised for similar mistakes in how they referred to the semi-autonomous cities of Hong Kong and Macau as well as the self-ruled island of Taiwan.
On Sunday, Italian fashion house Versace and its artistic director Donatella Versace apologised after widespread criticism on Chinese social media over a T-shirt it designed seemed to imply Hong Kong and Macau were independent countries.
The brand said on its Weibo account that it had made a mistake and as of July 24 had stopped selling the T-shirts and had destroyed them.
The studio of Versace’s China brand ambassador Yang Mi, one of the country’s most well-known actresses, said on its Weibo account that she was ending her contract with Versace over the issue.
“China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty are sacred and inviolable at all times,” Jiaxing Media said in the statement, which had over 640 million views.
Several other multinational firms have also come under scrutiny this week for not adhering to China’s territorial claims, drawing the ire of scores of Chinese consumers and celebrities online.
Yang Mi’s move to end her contract with Versace became one of the most viewed Weibo topics. (Reuters: Stefano Rellandini)
Chinese brand ambassadors of fashion labels such as Coach and Givenchy severed ties with the companies over products which they said violated China’s sovereignty by identifying Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries.
Coach’s China ambassador, supermodel Liu Wen, said on Weibo that she had severed her endorsement deal with the New York-based label over a similar T-shirt to Versace’s, which also listed Taiwan as a country even though Beijing says the self-ruled island is a renegade province.
Coach said it had found the “serious inaccuracy” in May 2018 and had immediately pulled the T-shirts from all its global channels. It added that it “deeply” regretted the design.
The topic “Coach” was the hottest item on China’s Twitter-like Weibo on Monday morning, receiving 1.2 billion views.
Chinese pop star Zhang Yixing ended his contract with Samsung due to the brand failing to list Taiwan and Hong Kong as China’s regions on its websites. (AFP: Isaac Lawrence)
Separately, Samsung’s ambassador, the Chinese singer and K-pop band member Zhang Yixing, also announced he would be cancelling his contract with the electronics brand.
According to a Twitter post by China’s state-owned media outlet Global Times, the pop star’s studio had “found the brand lists China, Taiwan and Hong Kong without clearing the latter two as China’s regions on its websites,” however Samsung did not issue an apology.
The blunders come at a time of heightened tensions between China and Hong Kong.
Mass unrest has rocked Hong Kong for several weeks as demonstrations, first aimed at an extradition bill, have evolved into a pro-democracy movement fighting against the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back in 1997.
Hong Kong brands face pressure to distance themselves from protesters
A Cathay Pacific Airways pilot was charged with rioting during clashes in Hong Kong, with the airline suspending two pilots so far. (Reuters: Bobby Yip)
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s national airline Cathay Pacific Airways had also expressed its support for China yesterday, condemning protests in Hong Kong and vowing to follow China’s aviation regulations.
The airline suspended a second pilot on Tuesday as deepening unrest hit its operation and stock.
Cathay, whose strong British links make it a symbol of Hong Kong’s colonial past, has emerged as the highest-profile corporate target as Beijing looks to quell protests in the territory that have gone on for 10 straight weeks.
Shares in the Hong Kong flag carrier sunk to a 10-year low, hit by concerns that Beijing could slap further sanctions on the airline, causing more damage to its brand.
Just last week, China’s aviation regulator demanded Cathay suspend personnel who engaged in or supported illegal protests in Hong Kong from staffing flights into its airspace, a directive the carrier complied with by suspending a pilot.
The airline also fired two ground staff and sent out a warning email to its employees.
“We condemn all illegal activities and violent behaviour, which seriously undermine the fundamental principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ as enshrined in the Basic Law,” Swire Pacific Ltd, the airline’s manager and top shareholder, said in a statement.
Cathay’s manager said it supported the Hong Kong Government, chief executive and police in their efforts to restore law and order.
Swire Pacific’s comments supporting Beijing come a day after China’s aviation regulator said its deputy director had met with Swire Pacific chairman Merlin Swire.
While Swire Pacific declined to say what was discussed, its statement on Tuesday underscores the political pressure both it and Cathay are facing.