Beloved Huawei draws rare fury in China for disputed map
Chinese mobile and telecom giant triggers calls for apology following Huawei Mate XS foldable phone launch
Huawei has been riding a tide of Chinese patriotic fervor ever since it was banned by the US last year. But when China woke up Tuesday morning, a deluge of social media comments focused not on the tech giant’s freshly launched foldable phones and laptops, but rather on… a map.
One popular post on Weibo, which was liked more than 31,000 times before it was set to private, questioned a world map that appeared in Huawei’s launch event Monday.
Richard Yu, Huawei’s consumer business chief, was explaining the company’s effort to protect customer privacy when the screen behind him showed various locations of its data centers. China’s silhouette left out some disputed geographic areas, such as Aksai Chin, much of which is administered by China but claimed by India. The absence was quickly picked up by eagle-eyed netizens.
“I think this is a matter of principle,” said one comment on Weibo. “A global company using a wrong map of its home country in an overseas launch event. That’s a shameful thing.”
“I don’t think this was intentional, but it’s a really serious error,” another wrote. “[Huawei] should apologize.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Huawei removed the original YouTube stream of the launch event and posted a new version hours later. In the new video, the map no longer shows China highlighted in gray. The word “Australia” is also spelled correctly -- unlike in original streams hosted by Chinese media outlets that are still found on Weibo.
A Huawei spokesperson declined to comment on the original map. We later followed up to ask them about the new video and changed map, but we have yet to receive a reply.
Huawei has attracted much sympathy in China since it was placed on a US trade blacklist last May.
At the time, Chinese social media saw an outpouring of support for the homegrown telecom giant, with comments like “hang in there” garnering tens of thousands of likes on Weibo. Calls for iPhone owners to switch to Huawei phones abounded. Despite the global headwinds, Huawei remained the country’s best-selling smartphone brand last year, with Chinese shipments making up about half of its total sales.
But the unusual snafu has suddenly placed Huawei at the other end of public sentiment. Some people point out that other smartphone companies have also used contested maps before, but most apologized swiftly. Huawei, they argue, should do the same.
During a phone launch in India in 2015, Xiaomi’s then-international chief Hugo Barra used a map that showed a Chinese-administered area contested by New Delhi as part of India. He later apologized on Weibo, saying he sourced the map from Shutterstock and neglected to vet it. Last year, an executive of Oppo spinoff Realme also apologized for a map-related mistake.
Maps aren’t just a sensitive issue in China, either.
Borders and place names can appear differently on Google Maps depending on where the user is located. A recent Washington Post report found, for instance, that the Sea of Japan is presented as the East Sea for users in South Korea. In Russia, the Crimean Peninsula is shown inside a hard-line border as part of Russia, while a dotted-line border appears for users in Ukraine and other places. Google says it follows local laws for local versions of Maps.