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H&M’s ‘Problematic Map’ Fix to Appease Chinese Draws Vietnam Backlash

Twitter users in Vietnam hit out at H&M over the weekend for capitulating to China over a map of disputed territories in the South China Sea.

The flap began Friday after H&M agreed to correct a “problematic map” on its website following complaints it was violating Chinese law, Chinese regulators said Friday, in a sign of further strife between the Swedish retailer and the world’s second-largest economy.

“Internet users reported to [the] management of H&M’s website that there existed a ‘problematic map of China,’ and the Shanghai municipal bureau of planning and natural resources ordered it to be quickly corrected,” they said.

H&M managers “corrected the error as soon as possible” after officials from the Shanghai arm of the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s internet regulator, “summoned” them for a meeting.

Though the nature of the offense wasn’t clear at the time, a graphic shared on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, touted the so-called “nine-dash line,” a boundary demarcation employed by the ruling Communist Party to show the extent of its territorial claim of the South China Sea. Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan all claim marine sovereignty over parts of the area.

Internet users in Vietnam criticized H&M’s actions, with some calling for a boycott of the retailer’s products or the closure of its Vietnam outlets unless changes to the map are reversed, according to the local Saigon Giai Phong newspaper.

Beijing has forced brands to apologize in the past for implying that Taiwan and Hong Kong are not part of “one China” on their websites or merchandise. In 2018, for instance, Beijing blasted H&M for listing Taiwan as a country on the Taiwanese version of its website and, before that, for characterizing Hong Kong, Macau and Tibet as separate countries.

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In a statement posted on WeChat, a messaging and social-media platform, regulators said H&M was told to read up on Chinese law, “bolster its awareness of the national territory and really ensure the standardized use of the Chinese map.”

H&M declined to comment.

The fast-fashion chain drew the wrath of Chinese netizens late last month after a months-old statement, noting that H&M would no longer procure cotton from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region due to “deep concerns” about forced labor, made its way across Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. Though Adidas, Burberry, Nike and others incurred a similar backlash, including the loss of endorsements from Chinese celebrities, H&M goods were the only ones that vanished from China’s e-commerce platforms and map apps.

The retailer attempted to quell the onslaught Wednesday, issuing a statement that it wanted to “be a responsible buyer, in China and elsewhere” even as it works to regain the “trust and confidence” of its Chinese customers, colleagues and business partners. But its remarks made no mention of Xinjiang, forced labor or the Uyghur people, prompting Weibo users, including the Guangzhou Daily, the official newspaper of the Guangzhou Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China, to reject the overture as full of “empty words and lack of sincerity.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 5, 2021, to include information about Vietnam.