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Nike pulls Japan designer line in China over Hong Kong backlash

Instagram post supporting protests draws anger from Chinese netizens

The greater China region accounts for 18% of the Nike brand's global sales.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- Nike has pulled a limited-edition line of sneakers in China following backlash over its Japanese designer's support for protests in Hong Kong against the proposed extradition bill, showing the dilemma global companies face in the Asian country when navigating sensitive political issues.

The launch of Daybreak, a collaboration between the American sportswear maker and Undercover, a streetwear brand by Japanese designer Jun Takahashi, was canceled at Nike's "urgent notice," local retailer YYsports said in an announcement a day before the shoes' scheduled June 14 release in China.

“Based on feedback from Chinese consumers, we have withdrawn from China a small number of products that were designed by a collaborator,” Nike said in a statement to the Nikkei Asian Review.

Earlier this month, Tokyo-based Undercover posted a picture of Hong Kong protesters to its Instagram account with the caption "no extradition to China" and, in Chinese, "best of luck, Hong Kong." The post, which was programmed to disappear 24 hours after publication time, drew immediate ire from Chinese netizens. Those who reside in mainland China have to use virtual private networks to bypass government censorship in order to access the social media platform.

Following the backlash, Undercover products were also temporarily pulled from Yoho, an online clothing retailer popular among Chinese millennials.

In June, millions of Hong Kong residents took to the street for dayslong protests against a proposed extradition law, on fears that it would extend Beijing's control over the city and jeopardize its autonomy. Hong Kong has since suspended the bill, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam publicly apologizing and signaling that the government likely will not proceed with the legislative process for the bill.

On the mainland, the phrase "no extradition to China" was censored on Weibo, the country's answer to Twitter.

Global consumer brands have grown increasingly careful around issues considered sensitive by Chinese consumers to avoid mass boycott, which was the treatment Dolce & Gabbana received last year over an advertising debacle and a co-founder's use of an anti-China slur. To this day, the brand remains absent from Alibaba Group Holding's online retail platform Tmall and JD.com, both of which dropped the Itatlian designer brand after the incident.

The greater China region accounts for about 18% of the Nike brand's global sales, according to its latest earnings report released in April.

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