Gap apologises to China for ‘incorrect’ map on T-shirt

China keeping close eye on references to territories from Taiwan to Tibet

Shoppers leave a Gap  store in Beijing. The firm said “We sincerely apologise for this unintentional error”. Photograph:  Gilles Sabri/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Shoppers leave a Gap store in Beijing. The firm said “We sincerely apologise for this unintentional error”. Photograph: Gilles Sabri/Bloomberg via Getty Images


US fashion retailer Gap became the latest giant corporation to apologise to China for selling a T-shirt with an “incorrect” map that did not feature Taiwan and other territories it claims.

The T-shirt omits territories claimed by China, including parts of southern Tibet, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

“Gap Inc. respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China,” Gap said on its Weibo account. “We’ve learned that a Gap brand T-shirt sold in some overseas markets failed to reflect the correct map of China. We sincerely apologise for this unintentional error.”

The losing KMT fled to Taiwan in 1949 after the civil war and China claims the self-ruled island as an inviolable part of its territory. The rhetoric has become more intense since the election of independence-leaning president Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwanese media had angry articles accusing the Gap of “kowtowing” to China, while the English-language Global Times adopted an approving tone of the decision to apologies.

The apology came after someone posted pictures of the T-shirt on Chinese social media network Weibo. The user said the photo of the garment was taken at an outlet store in Niagara, Canada.

China’s webizens keep a close eye out for any perceived slights on Chinese sovereignty, which are often painted as an “insult to the Chinese people”.

One Sina Weibo commentator said Gap should be banned.

“Get out of China,” the author wrote, saying there was no room for negotiations.

Daimler backtrack

In February, Daimler was forced to apologise after its Mercedes unit quoted the Dalai Lama, considered a dangerous splittist by the Chinese government, in an Instagram post.

An initial apology was considered not fulsome enough, and the People’s Daily said it lacked sincerity, so Daimler had to apologise again.

China shuttered the Chinese websites of the Marriott hotel chain after it listed Tibet and others as separate countries in a questionnaire. To make things worse, pro-Tibetan independence organisations “liked” the firm’s Twitter post.

In January, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) demanded, and received, an “immediate and public” apology from Delta Air Lines after it described Tibet and Taiwan as countries on its website.

The issue affects not just large corporates. A few years ago, a Taiwanese singer named Chou Tzu-yu waved a Taiwanese flag during a performance on South Korean TV, prompting outrage and demands for her to banned in China. The teenager made a tearful and fulsome plea for forgiveness in an online video.

The Gap T-shirt is part of a range that includes Canada, Japan, China, Paris, San Francisco and New York. The other shirts are illustrated with national flags.

Last month, the Chinese government demanded that US airlines change how they describe territories such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, prompting the White House to describe the demands as “Orwellian nonsense”.