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Taiwan

Bakery chain 85C share price falls in China as backlash grows over gift for Taiwanese president

Taiwan’s popular cafe chain faces anger at home and in mainland China, as efforts to defuse reaction to controversial gift please no one

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 6:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 10:03pm

The share price of popular Taiwanese bakery chain 85C plunged on Thursday as it was erased from delivery platforms amid growing calls for a boycott in mainland China.

And in Taiwan the company faced local anger over its attempts to defuse the situation.

The escalating cross-strait furore follows the company’s warm welcome of Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen during her weekend stopover in Los Angeles.

The bakery’s parent company, Gourmet Master, fell more than 7 per cent on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange as Chinese social media users remained unimpressed with its efforts to defuse the situation, which started with reports of an impromptu gift to Tsai from an 85C outlet in California.

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Mainland internet users demanded boycotts of the beloved Taiwanese chain in yet another zealous online campaign against private businesses for supposedly crossing Beijing’s “red line” on Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy that Beijing considers a breakaway province.

The chain addressed the controversy on Wednesday with a statement on the Twitter-like platform Weibo, where it said it supported the 1992 consensus, the “one China” policy which is deliberately ambiguous over whether it refers to Beijing or Taipei.

Many in Taiwan were angered by the statement, with legislator Tuan Yi-kang of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party bitterly quipping that it should change its name to “92C” to reflect its political stance.

Tsai has not endorsed the 1992 consensus, which Beijing insists is the basis for cross-strait dialogue.

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On Thursday morning, searches by the Post for 85C on multiple delivery platforms in China did not turn up any results.

These included Dianping, Meituan, Daojia Meishi and Ele.me, acquired by Alibaba Group, also the owner of the South China Morning Post.

Two platforms did not answer questions about the decision to remove the chain from its searches, while Meituan-Dianping declined to comment.

The 85C cafe chain, which has more than 600 outlets on the mainland, did not respond to questions about the apparent search blackout.

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Mainland media also reported that two of the bakery’s stores in southern Fujian province were found to have sanitation violations during an investigation of a dozen storefronts on Wednesday.

The provincial government directed questions to the city government, which did not respond.

An employee at one of the stores that was reportedly investigated deferred requests for comment to a store manager, who did not return calls.

The pressure on 85C is the latest in a series of social media campaigns against foreign companies over how they classify and label Taiwan, which analysts say are grass-roots responses to Beijing’s ramped up propaganda and nationalist rhetoric.

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Previous campaigns have targeted international airlines and retailers, putting the squeeze on them by threatening to shut them out of the world’s largest consumer market.

The anger over 85C started as Tsai was on a US stopover on her way to state visits in Paraguay and Belize, two of the 18 remaining diplomatic allies Taiwan is struggling to retain amid a concerted campaign from Beijing to limit the island’s space in the international arena.

These controversies come at a time when relations across the Taiwan Strait have stalled, ostensibly over Tsai’s refusal to accept the 1992 consensus, with Beijing engaging in frequent military drills around the island.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has said the government will not accept forces that would “separate any inch” of Chinese territory, and has not renounced the possibility of using force to unify Taiwan with the mainland.