U.S. clothing retailer Gap is the latest company to apologize to China for failing to reflect Beijing's territorial claims — on a map shown on a T-shirt for sale in North America.
The offending T-shirt showed a map of China without including Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing says is an integral part of the country. It also failed to show what China calls “Southern Tibet” — a huge swath of territory it claims in the northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh — and failed to draw a line around China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. That drew the ire of some Chinese netizens after a photo of the T-shirt on sale in Niagara, Canada, was posted online.
Gap quickly apologized, even though it appears the T-shirt is not for sale in China.
“Gap Inc. respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. We've learned a Gap brand T-shirt sold in some overseas markets mistakenly failed to reflect the correct map of China. We sincerely apologize for this unintentional error,” Gap said in a statement, according to China's Global Times newspaper.
“As a responsible company, Gap Inc. strictly follows Chinese laws and rules,” Gap said in the statement sent to the paper, adding that the company is committed to more rigorous reviews in the future to avoid similar incidents again.
In a tweet, People's Daily showed the offending T-shirt alongside what it considers to be the correct map.
China has engaged in a campaign this year to force international companies to toe the line when it comes to Taiwan and its “One China” policy. On April 25, it sent dozens of international airlines a written threat of severe punishments if they don’t change their websites to declare that Taiwan is part of China — a move that provoked a strong pushback from the White House.
“This is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies,” according to a White House statement. “China’s internal Internet repression is world-famous. China’s efforts to export its censorship and political correctness to Americans and the rest of the free world will be resisted.”
In January, Marriott International apologized profusely to China after sending a letter to rewards club members that listed Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as options on a question asking customers their countries of residence.
Fashion brand Zara and Delta Air Lines drew Beijing's ire and apologized for listing Taiwan and/or Tibet as countries on drop-down menus on their websites. Last year, German carmaker Audi was in hot water for omitting Taiwan and parts of western China on a map used at its annual meeting, while Mercedes-Benz apologized in February for quoting the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, on Instagram.
In the statement sent to the Global Times, Gap said the T-shirt has been pulled off shelves in the Chinese market and destroyed. But Gap's China headquarters in Shanghai said the T-shirt had not been released in China.
It is available online on the Gap Factory U.S. website, as part of the “City T-shirt in Jersey” range. Other T-shirts in the range show San Francisco, Paris, Japan and Canada but are decorated with national flags rather than maps.