Executives from Mercedes parent company Daimler have issued a second apology for an Instagram post featuring a Dalai Lama quote: "Look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open." The company had previously offered its "sincerest apologies" for the "erroneous message" on Weibo, adding that it had "hurt the feelings of people in this country."
In a written letter, Daimler’s Chairman Dieter Zetsche and Daimler Greater China’s Chairman Hubertus Troika expressed sincere apology to China.
They said Daimler has no intention of questioning or challenging in any manner China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
They said Daimler offers no support, assistance, aid or help to anyone who intentionally subverts or attempts to subvert China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Daimler deeply regrets the hurt and grief that its negligent and insensitive mistake has caused to the Chinese people.
Daimler fully and unreservedly recognizes the seriousness of the situation, which the company has caused and sincerely apologizes for. [Source]
Western companies have naturally tried to avoid causing offense with ads and other materials used within China in the past. This has not always been successful: Japanese retailer MUJI was recently ordered to scrap catalogues in Chongqing because they failed to acknowledge Chinese sovereignty over contested islands. But the deletion of a relatively obscure social media post on a platform not even officially accessible inside the country reflects the extent to which Beijing is increasingly managing to project its political sensitivities around the world. Last month, firms including hotel chain Marriott, fast fashion retailer Zara, and Delta Air Lines all came under fire for drop-down menus on their websites which appeared to recognize Tibet and Taiwan as separate countries. (Similar controversy has extended to official U.S. government websites and content: Taiwan has protested the removal of its flag from State Department and Trade Representative websites, while the Pentagon issued a correction for a graphic in its recent Nuclear Posture Review that showed Taiwan as part of China.) Beijing’s growing influence has attracted mounting scrutiny and concern in recent months in other arenas including Australia, Eastern Europe, and global academia.
The now-deleted Mercedes Instagram post has been preserved on Twitter, another platform blocked in China, by People’s Daily Online:
— People's Daily, China (@PDChina) February 7, 2018
The site, affiliated with the Party’s official mouthpiece, had rejected Daimler’s original apology, saying it "lacks sincerity and reflects the German carmaker’s lack of understanding of Chinese culture and values."
The post not only hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, but also challenged their bottom line on national sovereignty.
Mercedes-Benz delivered more than 600,000 new cars in China in 2017, setting a global record in a single market, according to Hubertus Troska, who is responsible for the Greater China, attributing the result to Chinese customers’ trust in the company.
[…] Chasing profits in China while hurting the feelings of the Chinese people, the reason for this conduct of some foreign enterprises is unacceptable.
The Dalai Lama’s agenda to split the country in the name of “autonomy” is well-known around the world, and anyone who supports him is clearly against China.
[…] Tolerance is a virtue of the Chinese culture, but tolerance has its limits. How will the German people react if a foreign enterprise speaks highly of Adolf Hitler and propagates his quotes, or worships views that try to separate German?
[…] China’s core interests cannot be challenged. Without sincere reflection, any foreign car business will not survive in China. [Source]
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang responded similarly to a reporter’s question at a press briefing on Wednesday:
Q: According to reports, on Monday, Mercedes-Benz quoted the Dalai Lama in an English language post on Instagram. Yesterday, the company apologized and deleted the post. Was this at the behest of the Chinese authorities?
A: I have seen relevant reports. To acknowledge your wrong and fix it is the simplest truth, universally accepted both in China and in other countries.
I want to stress that over the forty-year course of reform and opening-up, the all-around cooperation between China and foreign enterprises has not only boosted China’s development, but also benefited the latter. As the 19th CPC Congress ushered in a new era for China’s endeavors in various causes, a China in the new era will be more open and more confident. We will continue to pursue cooperation with foreign companies, and we are also ready to share China’s development opportunities with them. However, it is needless to say that they must observe some basic rules. [Source]
The well-worn rhetoric found in MoFA spokespersons’ responses was parodied in a video translated by CDT this week. Last week, spokesperson Hua Chunying raised eyebrows by challenging journalists to raise their hands if they supported a heavily critical report on media conditions by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.
Daimler’s actions have met with less than the universal acceptance Geng Shuang suggested.
Soft/sharp power enthusiasts: how to describe "hurt the feelings", ie China's repertoire of performative sensitivity designed to bring foreigners to heel? https://t.co/3V25cm2UJ8
— Jonathan Sullivan (@jonlsullivan) February 6, 2018
Mercedes-Benz apologizes for quoting the Dalai Lama in a car ad. Not, mind you, for being flippant about the Dalai Lama but for hurting the feelings of the Chinese people. https://t.co/3ThChJStrA pic.twitter.com/erNbD5bHQw
— Chris Buckley 储百亮 (@ChuBailiang) February 6, 2018
I would rather live in a world where you can shamelessly use MLK quotes to sell trucks than one where you can't shamelessly use Dalai Lama quotes to sell cars https://t.co/kmwe4xW3DX
— Gady Epstein (@gadyepstein) February 6, 2018
— Sophie Richardson (@SophieHRW) February 6, 2018
Don't be fooled; Chinese people are more robust than this. "Hurt feelings" are an iterative and performative tactic that promote reactive self-abasement & proactive self censorship. And it works. https://t.co/O3c3hGNjEJ
— Jonathan Sullivan (@jonlsullivan) February 6, 2018
Imagine those haunted Victoria's Secret supermodels who have Marriott Rewards points and drive Mercedes Benz — pursued by 1.4 billion people with hurt feelings. I hope they can sit on a beach and think: “Look at the situations from all angles, and you will become more open.”
— Chris Buckley 储百亮 (@ChuBailiang) February 7, 2018
Mercedes-Benz has apologized to China for hurting the feelings of its people by using an inspirational quote from the Dalai Lama in an Instagram post outside the Great Firewall. Time to revisit our history of "hurt feelings" / see slider at bottom https://t.co/RNscgjOtEv pic.twitter.com/0YDJWzdwyx
— China Media Project (@cnmediaproject) February 7, 2018
going with the headline Mercedes Bends
— Bill Bishop (@niubi) February 7, 2018
— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) February 7, 2018
In a more traditional episode, meanwhile, China’s embassy to South Africa protested a visit by exiled Tibetan leader Lobsang Sangay on Thursday. From Peter Fabricius at the Daily Maverick:
“It has sent a wrong political signal to the world community, and has undermined the political mutual trust between China and South Africa. It runs against the common interest of SA-China relations, and will undoubtedly discourage Chinese investors’ confidence in South Africa, undermine SA’s efforts for poverty reduction, and cause grave harm for the interest of South Africa and the South African people.”
The South African government is evidently furious at the Chinese embassy’s statement, but has not yet reacted officially. Privately officials are incensed that a “strategic partner” could use such threatening language against South Africa – especially after Pretoria had gone out of its way to be helpful.
But the officials said there was nothing the government could do to stop Sangay entering the country as he was travelling on a US passport and so did not require a visa and had been invited to South Africa by the Inkatha Freedom Party.
They said China did not seem to appreciate that South Africa was a democracy where the government did not have total control.
Daily Maverick was also unable to reach “common South Africans” to confirm the embassy’s statement that Sangay’s visit had “generated fury” among them. [Source]