Apple picketed in China after tribunal ruling

HONG KONG • Apple had to contend with a small, short-lived anti-US protest last week in China, its largest market abroad, where foreign firms have suffered damaging boycotts after international spats.

A few unofficial Apple stores were picketed and social media users prodded one another to destroy their Apple goods - in a rare case of the tech firm being targeted as a symbol of perceived injustice, following an international tribunal's ruling against Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Apple became a target by virtue of its country of origin, which in turn was regarded as the root of a perceived affront.

Earlier this month, the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague said it had found no legal basis for China's claim to most of the South China Sea. Local media called the tribunal a "puppet" of external forces, and accused the United States of turning the Philippines - which filed the case - against China.

Last Tuesday, more than 100 protesters picketed four unofficial Apple dealers in Suining in Jiangsu province for about three hours, urging customers not to buy the genuine Apple goods on sale.

"They chanted: 'Boycott American products and kick iPhones out of China'," store owner Zhu Yawei told Reuters.

"But nothing really happened: no fights, no smashing."

A video of the protest went viral on Chinese social media, with anti-Apple comments flooding microblogging site Weibo and pictures of what users described as their smashed iPhones - a luxury product in China widely considered a status symbol.

However, among the vitriol was just as much support, with state-controlled media also calling for restraint.

"It's cheap nationalism and outright stupidity," said 23-year-old Shan Mimi, who works at a Shanghai law firm. "But if you were to offer me an (upcoming) iPhone 7, I would gladly smash my iPhone 6!"

One Chinese woman on Weibo claimed to have smashed her iPhone and showed a photo of a damaged handset. She later told Reuters she lied. "I didn't smash my iPhone. All I did was find a photo (of a smashed handset) on the Internet and let off some steam," said the 21-year-old, calling herself L-Tin.

"Boycotting Apple would only make Chinese people lose their jobs - many work for Apple."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Apple picketed in China after tribunal ruling'. Print Edition | Subscribe