Chinese social media users are venting their anger against Starbucks after the company’s Hong Kong store started giving out coffee in cups with pro-democracy slogans.
The controversy started with a Chinese Weibo user who visited a Starbucks barista in the Tsim Sha Tsui region of Hong Kong. When the user received the coffee cup, he noticed that it had the message “Dear, democracy is a good thing.” The slogan has been used in several protest marches in Tsim Sha Tsui where protestors used to shout out the message targeting mainland shoppers. The user, with almost 29,000 followers, complained about the issue online and triggered a wave of protests from mainland Chinese people.
“I don’t know if this is specifically targeted. My friend said the Southeast Asian customers behind them did not get that message written on their cups… My friend and I are very angry, but didn’t bring it up at the time for our safety. I think at this particular time, a global chain like Starbucks should really keep their employees’ conduct within bounds, and not let customers spend money buying something that makes them disgusted,” the user wrote on Weibo (South China Morning Post).
Following his post, the Weibo page of Starbucks was flooded with Chinese users making angry comments against the company for “discriminating” against mainland customers and acting against the interests of the country. What makes the issue more difficult for Starbucks is the fact that they are an American company.
The Chinese government is circulating propaganda in the mainland accusing the U.S. of “masterminding” the Hong Kong protests to weaken China. As such, citizens are developing a strong anti-American sentiment. Calls to boycott Starbucks because it is an “enemy company” are already making the rounds in Chinese social media spaces. People are also posting negative reviews about Starbucks’ products and customer service in a bid to undermine sales of the company.
Earlier, Taiwan’s bubble tea chain CoCo was also subject to a similar angry backlash from Chinese in the mainland after the company’s Hong Kong branch started printing “Hongkongers, add oil” on its receipts. The phrase is used to encourage people of the city to keep going with the current protests against Beijing. Though the company later stated that they had shut down the branch involved in the controversy, media reports suggest that the shop is operating as usual.
Hong Kong rally
On Sunday, Hong Kong saw one of the largest protests in its history after almost 1.7 million people walked the streets in a peaceful march, defying police orders. Even as rain started pouring down from the skies, the protesters continued with their march by taking out their umbrellas. People shouted various slogans like “Reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our era.”
“Even though the weather was so bad, even in the face of threats of the People’s Liberation Army and water cannons, Hong Kong people never back down… For as long as the government doesn’t respond, there will only be more large-scale protests,” a 21-year-old university student said to The Guardian.
Given that Hong Kong has a population of about 7.3 million people, the fact that 1.7 million participated in the rally means that almost 23 percent of the city’s residents had marched against the government’s pro-Beijing actions. That is significant.