German Soccer Club Issues Apology After Chinese Netizens Complain of Facebook Post With Taiwan Flag

German Soccer Club Issues Apology After Chinese Netizens Complain of Facebook Post With Taiwan Flag
The Logo of FC Bayern Muenchen is seen at Saebener Strasse training ground in Munich, Germany, on Nov. 03, 2019. (Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Frank Fang

German soccer club FC Bayern Munich has become the latest international brand to toe Beijing’s line on Taiwan.

On Feb. 14, the German soccer club issued an apology on its official Weibo account over a Facebook post made two days earlier. The post included an emoji of Taiwan’s national flag next to the phrase “happy new year” in simplified Chinese characters. Weibo is China’s equivalent of Twitter.

That Facebook post was one of several similar Facebook entries Bayern Munich wrote on Feb. 12, to wish its fans in Asia—including those in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—a happy Lunar New Year. Each of the Facebook entries was accompanied by the country’s national flag. Bayern Munich has since deleted the Taiwan post.

Beijing claims self-governed Taiwan as a part of its territory, despite the island being a de-facto independent country with its own democratically-elected officials, constitution, military, and currency.

The Chinese Communist Party frequently pressures foreign companies that do business in China to adopt its line on Taiwan, saying that respecting China’s “territorial integrity” is a criteria for entering the market.

In its statement on Sunday, Bayern Munich explained that a third-party service it hired was responsible for the Taiwan post, and apologized for the “unacceptable content.”

“Bayern Munich greatly values cultural exchanges between China and Germany. As for the mistake this time, we will take it seriously, deal with it solemnly, and use it as a lesson for future work,” Bayern Munich wrote on Weibo.

In a statement to China’s hawkish state-run newspaper Global Times, Bayern Munich said the Taiwan post was a “very serious and unacceptable mistake” and it had used “the wrong flag” to send New Year greetings to mainland Chinese fans.

Patriotic mainland Chinese netizens reacted angrily to Bayern Munich’s apology, with some saying that the German soccer club has made similar mistakes in the past.

In December 2019, Bayern Munich thanked fans around the world via Facebook by creating graphics using its players and country flags, including those from Taiwan and China. According to Taiwanese media, the Facebook posts containing the two flags were later removed.

While speaking to local broadcaster FTV, local lawmaker Hsu Chih-chieh urged the Chinese regime to change its course, and stop oppressing freedoms and human rights. “Then, people will naturally grant you [international] recognition,” he said.

There have been several similar incidents in the past. In October 2019, French luxury brand Christian Dior apologized after it was criticized for using a map of China during a business presentation that didn’t include Taiwan.
In May 2018, U.S. clothing retailer Gap issued an apology after selling T-shirts with a map of China that didn’t include Tibet, Taiwan, and the South China Sea. According to Reuters, Gap then pulled the product from the Chinese market and destroyed them.

Also in 2018, China’s aviation regulator pressured international airlines to amend their websites to remove any references to Taiwan as a destination separate from mainland China, or else face retaliation. According to Taiwanese media, 44 carriers complied with the regulation, amending the references to phrases such as “Chinese Taipei” and “Taiwan, China.”

Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.