Yet another company is coming under fire for implying that Taiwan is independent from China. Only this time it’s Chinese national champion Huawei Technologies Co.
People on the country’s Weibo messaging service have expressed outrage that some Huawei and Honor smartphones listed “Taipei (Taiwan)” for users who select as their language of choice traditional Chinese, which is used on the island. Customers who select simplified Chinese — used on the mainland — would see “Taipei (China).” The Weibo topic has been viewed more than 350,000 times, with some calling for a boycott of a telecommunications giant considered one of the country’s crown jewels.
The outcry comes the same week that foreign brands such as Versace and Coach have apologized for making similar representations and drawing the ire of Chinese internet users. A Coach T-shirt, for example, listed Taiwan as a country while also identifying Hong Kong as a city and country. China claims both Taiwan and Hong Kong as part of its territory.
Huawei’s software has since been modified so that the offending Huawei and Honor phones now show “Taipei (China),” while phones outside China use Taipei with no country after it.
Chinese consumers have become a powerful force in pushing corporations to change their behavior, most often taking aim at foreign companies. Critical coverage in state-controlled media often spurs internet users to call for boycotts on the country’s social media platforms.
“There’s a nationalist response on the internet that obviously the government stokes,” said Andrew Polk, co-founder and partner of Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China. “It goes from official state media and then takes on a life of its own.”
Chinese buyers now account for at least a third of the world’s luxury sales and two-thirds of that industry’s growth, according to estimates from consultancy Bain & Co. So even companies that don’t sell mass-market products, but which are increasingly counting on China’s wealthy middle class and burgeoning consumer market for growth, are learning the hard way that it pays to make amends — and fast.