Bulgari, a high-end jeweler owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH, has issued an apology after allegedly listing Taiwan as a country on its overseas website, triggering a backlash from Chinese netizens and state media.
The controversy erupted when users on Weibo, China's Twitter-like platform, noticed that the country drop-down menu on Bulgari's website included Taiwan, which Claims as its territory and does not recognize as a sovereign state.
The Global Times, a state-run tabloid, posted on Weibo that "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory and cannot be listed as a country". The post received over 100,000 likes and 10,000 comments, many of which express anger and disappointment at Bulgari.
Bulgari responded by apologizing on its official Weibo account on Tuesday, saying that the mistake was due to a management error and that it "respects China's sovereignty and territorial integrity". It also said that it had corrected the website and would strengthen its internal supervision to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
However, some Chinese social media users were not satisfied with Bulgari's apology, demanding that the brand also issue a statement on its international platforms and punish the responsible staff. Some also called for boycotting Bulgari's products and canceling its endorsements with Chinese celebrities.
Bulgari is not the first foreign brand to face the wrath of Chinese consumers over perceived territorial slights. In recent years, several luxury brands such as Versace, Givenchy, and Coach have been criticized and boycotted in China for indicating Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as countries on their websites or merchandise. Other brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Gap, and Delta Airlines have also apologized to China for offending its geopolitical sensibilities over issues such as Tibet and the South China Sea.
China is one of the largest and fastest-growing markets for luxury goods in the world, accounting for about 35% of global sales in 2020, according to Bain & Company. However, foreign brands also have to navigate the complex and sensitive political landscape in China, where nationalism and patriotism are often amplified by social media and state media. Failing to do so could result in losing access to millions of potential customers ad damaging their reputation.