Maserati ditches Taiwan film awards after China boycott

Carmaker is latest global brand to bow to Beijing's pressure over stance on island

TAIPEI • Luxury Italian sports-car maker Maserati has cut sponsorship ties with Taiwan's top film awards, the latest international brand to bow to pressure from China on political issues.

Maserati said on its official account on Weibo, China's Twitter-like online platform, that it had pulled out of sponsoring the upcoming Golden Horse Awards, often dubbed the "Chinese Oscars".

The car company directly linked its decision to Beijing's stance on Taiwan, a self-ruled island for the past seven decades which China views as its own territory that must one day be seized, by force if necessary.

"Maserati has always respected China's territorial integrity, its history and culture while firmly upholding the 'one China' principle," the firm said, using Beijing's official phrase for classifying Taiwan as part of communist China.

It added that the initial sponsorship deal was struck by Maserati's office in Taiwan and did not represent the brand's "official stance".

Beijing has been ramping up diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan ever since President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016, because her party refuses to recognise that the island is part of "one China".

As punishment, it cut official communications, stepped up military exercises and poached half a dozen diplomatic allies.

Pressure is building again as Taiwan heads towards new elections in January, with Ms Tsai seeking to defeat an opponent who favours much warmer ties with China.

The Golden Horse Awards got into trouble with Beijing after a Taiwanese director called for the island's independence in an acceptance speech at last year's ceremony.

In August, China's national film board ordered mainland directors and stars to boycott the Nov 23 event, and there are no mainland films in the nomination list.

International brands have routinely found themselves bowing to Beijing's stance on Taiwan - a much smaller market compared with the lucrative mainland.

A growing list of international firms, including luxury brands, airlines and hotels, have been pressured to apologise to Beijing or changed Taiwan's classification on their websites to "Taiwan, China" or "Chinese Taipei" in recent years.

Last week, Dior apologised after a staff presentation featured a map of China without Taiwan on it. The apology sparked criticism from Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, who urged brands to "stand up to the bully", a reference to Beijing.

On Thursday, US Vice-President Mike Pence gave a speech excoriating brands who bow to pressure from Beijing, singling out the NBA and Nike.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has been engulfed in controversy since Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey earlier this month tweeted "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong".

China, a major market for the NBA, retaliated by ending sponsorships and cancelling broadcasts of pre-season games held in the country. Nike pulled Houston Rockets merchandise from its stores in China.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2019, with the headline Maserati ditches Taiwan film awards after China boycott. Subscribe