Amazon Faces Online Backlash in China for T-shirts With Hong Kong Democracy Slogans

August 15, 2019 Updated: August 15, 2019

SHANGHAI—Chinese social media users directed their fury at online retailer on Aug. 15, after discovering T-shirts on its website sporting slogans that support anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.

The hashtag “Amazon T-Shirts” became the fourth-top trending topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo on Wednesday in the latest backlash for an overseas company that broached matters regarding Hong Kong’s territorial status. The Chinese regime has been more assertive in its territorial claims and how it expects foreign companies doing businesses in China to describe them.

The widely-read Global Times tabloid, published by China’s state-owned People’s Daily, said many Chinese internet users found the T-shirts for sale carrying slogans such as “Free Hong Kong Democracy Now” and “Hong Kong is Not China,” among others.

Beijing is also facing one of its most popular challenges to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012 in Hong Kong, where demonstrators say they are fighting against the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back in 1997.

Legions of internet users accused Amazon of being insensitive toward the Chinese people, with one Weibo commenter writing, “Amazon has already left China, right? We need to teach this company a lesson.”

The e-commerce giant shut its domestic shopping service in July, but continues to ship overseas goods to the country. The T-shirts were available on Amazon’s U.S. website.

The company said in a statement, “Amazon has always and will continue to acknowledge the longstanding and widely-recognized policy of ‘one China, two systems’. Every country where we operate has different laws, and we will continue to respect those local laws where we do business.”

Protests in Hong Kong are attracting media attention across the region, as activists have occupied public spaces across the global financial hub for more than 10 weeks, to draw attention to a perceived erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong.

Foreign brands are under increasing pressure from Chinese consumers and regulators to fall into line on contentious issues around Chinese sovereignty and its territorial claims.

Several celebrities from mainland China severed ties with a number of fashion labels this week, after online users pointed out they had released apparel that referred to Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Versace, Calvin Klein, and other brands each issued public apologies online, either on Chinese social media accounts or overseas ones.

Coach, which drew fire for a T-shirt that implied Taiwan was a distinct entity from China, said that in May 2018 it discovered a “serious inaccuracy” in one of its clothing items and pulled it from store shelves.

Taiwan is self-governed and has a democratically elected leadership, but the Chinese regime claims the island as a breakaway province and has not ruled out the use of force to ensure unification. The question of Taiwan’s formal independence is one of Beijing’s most sensitive political concerns.

By Josh Horwitz