Chinese netizens flame Ya Kun Kaya Toast for listing Taiwan as a country

Ya Kun is working with the authorities on the issue.
Ya Kun is working with the authorities on the issue.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

BEIJING - China's cyber warriors - known infamously as Little Pinks - have targeted Singapore coffee-and-toast chain Ya Kun Kaya Toast for listing Taiwan as a country in its promotional material.

The attacks quickly gained traction on Chinese social media platform Weibo on Wednesday (Oct 20) after a news outlet posted a clip showing a promotional video played at one of Ya Kun's outlets in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing.

In the Ya Kun video, a graphic showing the chain's international operations can be seen, and it lists Taiwan among 10 countries, including China, Japan, South Korea and Myanmar.

The accompanying Chinese subtitles said: "Our over 40 retail stores in 10 countries overseas have all been warmly welcomed."

Since news outlet released its news clip on Tuesday night, the hashtag - Singapore's food and beverage shop in Nanjing lists Taiwan as a country - has drawn more than 90 million views on Weibo.

It has also sparked 2,500 discussions on the microblogging site.

State media Beijing Radio and Television Station owns, which shares bite-sized videos online.

Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province and has punished corporations and chastised governments for referring to Taiwan as a country.

In the 44-second news clip, which has attracted 3.9 million views, interviewed a mall employee, who said that the shop has been closed for at least two days after the mall received notification that it had "inappropriate advertising".

"We are awaiting instructions from the state on follow-up actions," the employee was heard saying in the clip.

When reached by The Straits Times, Ya Kun branding and market development director Jesher Loi said that the chain is working with the authorities on the issue. He declined to comment further.

A staff member at another of Ya Kun's outlets in Nanjing told The Straits Times that the one singled out in the news clip was closed, without elaborating.

Ya Kun has 16 outlets in China in cities such as Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hangzhou, according to online marketplace Anxingjiameng.

A search on Ya Kun's website returned an error message after clicking on its overseas locations tab.

Netizens called for Ya Kun's closure, and urged Chinese consumers not to patronise businesses that promote "Taiwan separatism".

"Ya Kun doesn't even have basic respect for China's sovereignty, but still wants to make money off Chinese citizens? Classic case of breaking the bowl after eating the rice!" user Fengmintianxia said, referring to a Chinese proverb.

Singaporean singer Stefanie Sun was also dragged into the fray, with some Little Pinks accusing her of having made comments referring to Taiwan as a country in the past.

In an interview, Ms Sun was asked to list the places where she had held concerts, and she said: "Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China".

The Little Pinks felt that she should have used "nei di" (mainland) instead of "zhong guo" (China) when referring to China.

In 2018, Japanese retailer Muji was fined 200,000 yuan (S$42,077) in Shanghai for using packaging that listed Taiwan as a country.

Swedish furniture giant Ikea also came under fire that year for listing Taiwan and Hong Kong separately from China on its packaging.

Netizens felt that Ikea should have used "China-Hong Kong" and "China-Taiwan" instead, of Hong Kong and Taiwan. The controversy died down later.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines were made to remove references to Taiwan as a separate country on their websites after the Civil Aviation Administration of China demanded the changes.