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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Mercedes-Benz joins the bandwagon of multinational companies kowtowing to China

February 12, 2018

By Sui-Lee Wee

New York Times, February 06, 2018 - The German carmaker Daimler publicly apologized on Tuesday after its Mercedes-Benz brand caused an outcry in China by quoting the Dalai Lama in a social media post.

The move by the automaker is the latest example of a foreign company being cowed by the growing power of a critical, but increasingly nationalistic, consumer market. Many in China view the Dalai Lama as a dangerous voice for separatism in a region, Tibet, that they consider an integral part of their country.

The post on the Mercedes-Benz Instagram account, which was widely viewed before being deleted, carried the hashtag “#MondayMotivation” and showed a white Mercedes car on a beach. It featured a quote popularly attributed to the Dalai Lama: “Look at the situations from all angles, and you will become more open.”

Mercedes-Benz apologise to China for quoting Dalai Lama on social media, thus viewing things from only one angle and becoming less open.

The Instagram post provoked an outcry from Chinese internet users, many of whom pledged to boycott the Mercedes brand. Though China blocks Instagram, a photo-sharing social network owned by Facebook, many users circumvent those controls by using virtual private networks.

China typically responds furiously when a foreign leader, celebrity or company meets with the Dalai Lama or mentions him. Beijing accuses him of seeking independence for Tibet, but the spiritual leader insists that he is only seeking the autonomy promised by the Chinese government.

The post carried an “erroneous message” and was removed, Mercedes said in a statement posted on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. It said it sincerely accepted all criticism and would take every action to increase its “understanding of China’s culture and values.”

“Although we deleted the post as soon as possible, it has hurt the feelings of people in this country,” the company said. “In this regard, we extend our sincerest apologies.”

Official media also criticized the company over the post. The People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s official newspaper, called Mercedes-Benz the “enemy of the people.”

“This is an ill-intentioned poster,” the newspaper said in an opinion piece. “It is not only an offense, but even more so, it’s a challenge to the Chinese people. Needless to say, it’s hateful.”

Daimler’s response highlights the vulnerabilities of foreign companies operating in a market like China, which is highly sensitive to any slight. Many companies, including Apple and Yum Brands, which owns the restaurant franchises Pizza Hut and KFC, have had to apologize because of an internet-savvy population that is quick to stoke a backlash against foreign businesses.

Last month, the American hotel chain Marriott International publicly pledged that it did not support separatist elements in China after it listed Tibet and Taiwan, a democratic island that Beijing considers to be a breakaway province, as separate countries. Its Chinese website and app were shut down for a week by the Chinese authorities.

After that episode, Chinese consumers scoured the internet for other offenders. Delta Air Lines and the Spanish clothing retailer Zara were similarly rebuked by Chinese authorities for listing Taiwan and Tibet as countries on their websites.

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