To do business in China, don't be an enemy of the Chinese people
Daimler's Chairman Dieter Zetsche and Daimler Greater China's Chairman Hubertus Troika sent a joint letter of apology to the Chinese ambassador in Germany on Wednesday, sincerely apologizing to China for quoting the Dalai Lama in a social media post.
On Monday, Mercedes-Benz posted an advertisement on its Instagram account, with the quote: "Look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open." Below the picture was the line: "Start your week with a fresh perspective on life from the Dalai Lama." The post quickly led to an uproar in China, as the Dalai Lama is considered an anti-China separatist.
The next day, Mercedes-Benz issued an apology on Sino Weibo, China's Twitter-like service, saying the post contained an "extremely wrong message," and vowed that it would never happen again. That night, People's Daily Online published a commentary that called Mercedes-Benz's an "enemy of the Chinese people," saying the apology lacked sincerity.
As the editorial argued, the ill-intentioned post was not only offensive, but it challenged the Chinese people. "Needless to say, it was disgusting," it said. "It is worth asking why, even before the dust from Marriott International has settled, international companies dare play with fire."
As we all know, this is not the first time an international company has landed in hot water for anti-China actions. Earlier this year, Marriott International mistakenly labeled Tibet and other parts of Chinese territory as separate countries, liked a pro-Tibet independence group on social media, and provided information on its website that informed travelers that Tibet was a separate country with "bad relations" with Beijing.
"Whoever wrote the Instagram message knew exactly what they were doing," a reader commented on People's Daily Online. On both Chinese and English-language websites, Chinese people boiled over with anger and called for more actions to prevent China from becoming a punching-bag of the West.
While some in the West have criticized the response as an overreaction and an attack on free speech, we should put ourselves in the shoes of the Chinese people. In recent history, China suffered the humiliation of foreign invasion and aggression. We should understand that the Chinese people cherish state sovereignty and territorial integrity and unity of the nation very much. Mercedes-Benz's post hurt the feelings of Chinese people.
The simple truth is that China’s core interests cannot be challenged, and the Dalai Lama is widely viewed as a dangerous separatist. As the editorial noted, this puts the company squarely against China. "Holding the smelly feet of the Dalai Lama makes you the enemy of the Chinese people."
As a business, Mercedes-Benz should strive for excellence and its actions should match its words on how economic success and social responsibility go hand in hand. How would Germany feel if a country's company praised Hitler and widely spread his "famous sayings," or the rhetoric of separatist forces in Germany?
Later, Daimler sincerely apologized to the Chinese people and said it has no intention of questioning or challenging China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and that it offers no support of any kind to anti-China separatist forces, which is welcome news. However, there are many Chinese people who still feel that the apology alone is not enough to fix the damage as well as discourage other international companies from challenging China's core interests.
"A simple apology is not enough. The low cost will just encourage more international companies to challenge [China's core interests]," said a net user on the WeChat account of People's Daily Online.
Using the words of the Dalai Lama to sell a luxury car, Mercedes-Benz said to "look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open." However, China's core interests cannot be challenged from any angle. The recent mistake by Daimler might not be a deliberate attempt to challenge China's sovereignty over Tibet as the company claimed in its apology, but international companies need to better understand China. This is the message that the Chinese people are trying to get across to international companies: Foreign friends are welcome to do business in China, but there is no room for enemies of the Chinese people.