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BEIJING — Crystal jewelry maker Swarovski on Tuesday became the latest foreign brand to apologize to China for implying Hong Kong was an independent country.
"Swarovski takes full responsibility and sincerely apologizes to the people of China, as well as to our collaborative partners and Brand Ambassador, Ms. Jiang Shuying, who have been deeply disappointed due to misleading communication on China’s National Sovereignty," the company wrote in a message posted on Instagram in English. It also apologized on the Chinese social networking site Weibo in Chinese.
Jiang, who is an actress, terminated her contract with the company Tuesday in a statement released by her studio on Weibo, which is similar to Twitter in China.
“We adhere to the one-China policy,” the statement said. “We will never tolerate any behavior that damages China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity!”
Western luxury fashion brands Coach and Givenchy also faced an angry backlash in China on Monday for selling T-shirts featuring Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hong Kong is a semiautonomous region recently shaken by protests, while China views Taiwan, which has a democratically elected government, as a breakaway province.
The furor began over the weekend when luxury fashion label Versace was spotted selling a T-shirt that listed Hong Kong and Macao as countries. Both are special administrative regions of China.
Chinese brand ambassadors for Versace, Coach and Givenchy stopped working with the firms hours after the controversy and apologized for their association with them.
“I apologize to everyone for my carelessness in choosing the brand and the damage it caused to everyone! I love my motherland and firmly safeguard China’s sovereignty,” supermodel and Coach brand ambassador Liu Wen wrote Monday.
The statement received 938,000 likes as of Tuesday afternoon in Beijing.
Versace also published an apology on Twitter on Sunday, and Coach apologized Monday. Givenchy apologized Monday on Instagram.
“Never have I wanted to disrespect China’s national sovereignty and this is why I wanted to personally apologize for such inaccuracy and for any distress that it might have caused,” Donatella Versace, Versace’s chief creative officer, wrote in a signed note on Twitter.
Versace said the T-shirt had been pulled, as did Coach, which said that it was also reviewing its website content. Givenchy said it would “correct the human negligence and errors and learn a lesson from it.”
All of the brands issued statements on Weibo, but did not respond to NBC News requests for comment.
The People's Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, published an article Monday with the headline, “Companies operating in China should abide by Chinese laws.”
It’s not the first time that well-known international brands have stirred controversy in China. Zara, Marriott, Gap and McDonald’s have also infuriated Chinese customers by listing China-claimed regions as separate entities. They also later apologized.
China is the fastest-growing and most profitable luxury market in the world.
In 2018, Chinese consumers at home and abroad spent $115 billion on luxury items, equal to a third of global spending, according to a report by consulting firm McKinsey.
“In the short term, the clash between foreign brands and the Chinese people will probably become normal,” said Liu Tao, professor of business management at Zhejiang University in southeast China.
“But with deeper understanding of each other, there will be fewer clashes over time,” Liu said.
Shoppers in one Beijing mall were less forgiving of the brands. Wang Tianyu, 18, a student from Beijing, said he thought the brands "are making the mistakes knowingly.”
“I bought a Coach bag once,” he said. “I won’t buy it again unless it’s something I really like, and absolutely irreplaceable by other brands.”
Xiong Xi, 34, a tourist from south China’s Sichuan province, said he didn't accept the brands' apology.
“These brands only apologize for their own economic interest,” Xiong said, adding that he wouldn't buy their products.