HONG KONG – French cosmetics company Lancome has sparked a backlash in Hong Kong after it canceled a promotional concert featuring a singer known for pro-democracy views, with many accusing it of caving to political pressure from Beijing.
Cantopop singer and outspoken celebrity activist Denise Ho was scheduled to perform on June 19. But after word of the event got out, China's nationalist Global Times newspaper criticized Lancome over the weekend through its microblogging Weibo account.
Lancome then said Sunday on its Hong Kong Facebook page that the event had been canceled because of unspecified "safety reasons." It also sought to distance itself from Ho in a separate post, saying that she's not its spokeswoman.
The statements earned Lancome thousands of angry Facebook comments, with many calling for a boycott of the company.
Ho fired back with her own Facebook statement, saying that the company "unilaterally" canceled a "pure artistic collaboration."
"When a global brand like Lancome has to kneel down to a bullying hegemony, we must face the problem seriously as the world's values have been seriously twisted," said Ho, who backed pro-democracy protesters who took to the streets in 2014 over Beijing's decision to restrict elections in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese city.
Ho is also a supporter of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, and posted a picture on Facebook last month of their meeting on her birthday. Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to separate Tibet from China. Tibetans and the Dalai Lama say they simply want a higher degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.
The Global Times fueled the controversy Tuesday when it said in an op-ed piece that Lancome scrapped the event because it could not risk alienating mainland China, whose market dwarfs Hong Kong's.
"Apparently Lancome has given more consideration to the sentiment of the mainland public, because the mainland boasts a much larger market than Hong Kong," the article said.
There were also calls on Chinese social media to boycott Lancome products, underscoring the dilemma for the company in balancing profit and principle.
Lancome's parent company, French cosmetics giant L'Oreal, said in its most recent annual report that the brand "performed strongly" in China last year, but also noted that Hong Kong was a "difficult market."
Ho is not the first artist to pay a price for displeasing China's communist leaders. Bon Jovi and Maroon 5 have also had concerts in China canceled over images or tweets about the Dalai Lama. Earlier this year, Taiwanese teen pop star Chou Tzu-yu was forced to apologize by her management firm for waving Taiwan's flag on South Korean TV because of worries about offending China.