Chinese consumers urged to stop buying foreign goods in wake of Heathrow duty free ‘insult’

People’s Daily commentary says citizens should hit back at ‘business owners who are dishonest and do not respect the rule of law’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2018, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2018, 6:47pm

The official newspaper of China’s Communist Party has suggested Chinese consumers buy fewer foreign products as a way of expressing their upset at the discrimination Chinese tourists experienced at a duty free store in Britain’s Heathrow Airport.

In a commentary piece published on its website, People’s Daily said the airport should not only apologise to those affected, but also compensate them.

Both Heathrow and retail chain World Duty Free earlier apologised for the inequity of a scheme that offered shoppers who spent a certain amount discount vouchers against future purchases.

The initial row began after a salesman at the store revealed that Chinese tourists had to spend more than some other shoppers to be entitled to the discounts.

London’s Heathrow airport, duty-free shop sorry over ‘Chinese discrimination’ controversy

In a statement to the South China Morning Post on Tuesday, World Duty Free, which runs more than 500 stores in 20 countries, said it had investigated the voucher programme and taken “urgent steps to correct the implementation of this promotion”.

A spokeswoman for Heathrow described the situation as “unacceptable”.

Their words were not enough for People’s Daily, however.

In its article, headlined “Heathrow airport has apologised, but the questioning of it shall not stop”, the party mouthpiece urged Chinese consumers to fight back against discrimination.

“When it comes to business owners who are dishonest and do not respect regulations and the rule of law, the victims should bravely use the law as a weapon to defend their rights,” it said.

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While the exact details of the apparently flawed voucher scheme have not been made public, the commentary was in no doubt as to how Chinese consumers should respond.

“As the shop treats customers differently [based on their nationality], should we vote with our feet and stop buying foreign products?” it said.

A spokesman for World Duty Free declined to comment on the article, while Heathrow airport did not immediately respond to the Post’s emails.

The number of Chinese tourists has grown steadily in recent years and their spending power is equally impressive.

According to national tourism agency VisitBritain, Chinese made an estimated 330,000 visits to the country in 2017, and put their combined spending at £667 million (US$925 million).

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Heathrow and World Duty Free are not the only foreign businesses to have offended China recently.

Last month, hotel chain Marriott International, clothes retailer Zara and carrier Delta Air Lines, among others, apologised for referring to Taiwan, Hong Kong and other cities and regions Beijing says are inalienable parts of its territory as separate countries.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang appeared to take a more pragmatic approach to the latest “slur”.

“It’s not the first time that such things have happened, nor the last time, I’m afraid,” he said on Tuesday. “This time it involved Britain; next time, it might be another country.”