Foreign companies must respect public opinion, still welcome in Chinese market

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/25 22:23:40

Germany's Daimler AG recently got into trouble in China after its luxury unit Mercedes-Benz quoted the Dalai Lama, who is considered a separatist trying to split China, in a post on its Instagram account. Although the Germany-based carmaker has faced intense criticism on Chinese social media sites, the issue should not be seen as a drag on the status of Western companies doing business in China.

In 2017, Daimler AG sold 610,965 Mercedes-Benz and smart-branded cars in the country, accounting for one-quarter of its global sales in the year, the Singapore-based Straits Times newspaper reported. A growing army of middle-class consumers is driving demand for everything, especially luxury products, and they offer a way for the Germany-based carmaker to maintain fast sales growth in the Chinese market in the coming years.

Daimler AG has apologized to the Chinese Ambassador to Germany for quoting the Dalai Lama. If the issue can be handled properly, it will be only a small episode in the larger story of German companies' expansion in the Chinese market. We believe the setback will help Daimler AG gain insights into public opinion in China.

Chinese society has seen profound changes in recent times. The rise of microblogs and social media has enhanced the power of the internet. Chinese people have never lacked patriotism, but their emotion now can be directly displayed on the internet.

In January, US hotel chain Marriott sparked public anger for listing Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao as "countries" in a customer questionnaire. Such events can become an easy platform for Chinese people to express their patriotism, and Western companies must adapt to this.

The incidents cannot be interpreted as an omen that China may shut the door to Western companies.

Earlier this month, Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed that "We will continue to cooperate with foreign companies and welcome them to share China's development opportunities."

This is good news for many Western companies for which China is a vital overseas market, and they can profit by increasing their presence in China.

However, people should remain alert to malicious slander aimed at inciting animosity between Western companies and the Chinese government.

In an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Michael Auslin, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, described Daimler AG's mistake as China's "public humiliation" of the Western company.

The ulterior motive behind Auslin's words is slander and we believe foreign companies that have made profits by investing in China can recognize this.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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