Gap apologizes to China for ‘incorrect map’ on a T-shirt
Some would forgive a clothier for a lack of diplomacy in geopolitical
China, however, has an ax to grind generally—and now specifically because
of an image on a T-shirt.
China has long held disputes with the West over territories, such as
Taiwan, that it claims to own but which Western governments do not
recognize as Chinese possessions or protectorates. The depiction of China
on the shirt in question omits those disputed areas.
Retailers looking to tap the expanding Chinese market have some research to
do and some hard choices to make.
Gap is not the first international brand to bruise China’s long fingers and
tender toes, but it has apologized just the same.
The apology was triggered by complaints from consumers reacting to pictures
of a Gap-branded T-shirt posted on Chinese social media network Weibo.
Users pointed out that a map printed on the shirt omitted territories
claimed by China, including parts of southern Tibet, Taiwan and the
South China Sea.
Gap issued an apology late Monday on its Weibo account, saying it “respects
the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China.” The company said the
product has been pulled from the Chinese market and destroyed.
Keeping track of China’s territorial claims can be tricky, especially for
brands in the U.S., where the federal government disagrees with China over
its purported reach.
[FREE DOWNLOAD: Keep your cool in a crisis with these 13 tips.]
While Taiwan is self-governed, only a minority of countries recognize its
sovereignty as a nation independent of China. The area China calls Southern
Tibet is a disputed region on the country’s border with India, where China
about 90,000 square kilometres
in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. In the South China Sea, China is engaged
in a number of disputes over
islands, coral reefs, and lagoons
in what is a major commercial thoroughfare that is potentially rich in
The incident also demonstrates the rising power of Chinese social media.
China doesn’t use Western platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, but
Chinese facsimiles, including Weibo, can generate a backlash, especially if
that response aligns with an official government position.
U.S. News and World Report
The company took action after photos began circulating on Chinese social
media of a T-shirt showing a map that didn’t include Taiwan, a self-ruled
island that Beijing regards as Chinese territory. The map also appeared to
leave out southern Tibet and the disputed South China Sea, the state-owned
Global Times said, adding that it drew hundreds of complaints on China’s
Weibo microblogging platform Weibo.
The photos were taken at a Gap shop in Canada’s Niagara region, Global
Times said. The shirt could not be found on Gap websites and it wasn’t
clear whether it was still being sold in shops in some countries.
Other companies have felt compelled to apologize to the massive nation.
A series of other big Western brands have apologized over missteps on
Chinese territorial issues.
Chinese authorities in January blocked Marriott’s (MAR) websites and apps
for a week
after the company listed Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as separate
countries in emails and apps. Marriott issued an apology, saying it
respects and supports China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
US airline Delta (DAL) and European clothing retailer Zara also came under fire over similar
issues on their websites in China. Both companies subsequently apologized.
Some see China’s complaints as petty and manipulative:
The fact that China is voicing its opposition to a $10 T-Shirt—on the @Gap outlet website, no less—should speak volumes. https://t.co/zTNLsgwLg5
— Jessica Drun (@jessicadrun) May 15, 2018
Others say Gap’s apology is a mistake:
— James Wilson (@James_Q_Wilson) May 15, 2018
Clothing brand @Gap has now been forced to apologise over a map of #China shown on one of its t-shirts that did not include #Tibet. They said it was an “unintentional error”. It may have been unintentional, but it wasn’t an error. #AccidentallyCorrect https://t.co/nNRNOs0Vrt
— Free Tibet (@freetibetorg) May 15, 2018
#gap you had the map right in the first place. China does not control Taiwan.
— I’m What’s Right (@ImWhatsRight) May 15, 2018
Still others note China’s long arm of influence:
China is making Gap apologize for shirts it was selling in Canada. https://t.co/IVSHhBTXut
— Patrick Chovanec (@prchovanec) May 15, 2018
What do you think of the Gap’s apology, PR Daily readers?