“What would you do, when you’re vying for world championship at the Olympics on behalf of Taiwan, but people say you’re from China?” asked Warren Hsu, Founder and CEO of FuWan Chocolate, on his Facebook page, frustrated. “Should you continue to prove yourself or withdraw from the competition as a gesture of protest?”
Founded in 2015, the chocolate brand from Pingtung, Taiwan, has just started to shine on the global stage two years ago, when it wins eight medals at the APAC regional competition of International Chocolate Awards (ICA), known as the “Oscar of the chocolate industry.” At the World Final event in late 2019, it has won the biggest prize with its tea-flavored chocolate bar titled "Taiwan No. 1," according to Focus Taiwan.
Last week, FuWan was referred to as a Chinese brand on an official Facebook page run by Hankyu Department Store, where the chain introduces with several posts the products that will be displayed and sold at the Chocolate Expo in its Umeda branch in Osaka, according to CNA.
The controversial post was soon flooded with comments from Taiwanese and Japanese online users who lash out at the store for apology and correction of wording error; some say they will call the store to complain.
On the same day, Mr. Hsu detailed the situation on his Facebook page: the company has lodged a formal protest against the mistake with the local sales agent, who later replied that the department store chain is obliged to mark Taiwan as a Chinese territory, based on an agreement it has signed with the Chinese government.
Hankyu modified the post in a day, adding that they “sincerely apologize for causing any unhappiness.” Accepting the apology, Mr. Hsu said he also demanded they deal with their flyers about the expo, which seem to have been printed with the same error and are waiting to be sent out.
As Mr. Hsu said, his startup is “facing the world” without focusing on specific markets; however, in the shadow of China, it has been difficult for the Taiwanese to retain their identity on the global stage without being dragged into politics. It seems that as the harder they try to draw international attention to Taiwan, the more bombshells its neighbor is like to drop by wiping out its presence.
So, again, should they leave or stay when they can’t reveal where they’re from?
A delegation of Taiwanese tech companies was faced with the same dilemma at the ASEAN Smart Cities Network Conference and Exhibition in Bangkok in August, 2019. Led by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), they were forced to exhibit their products under an unmarked booth.
The event organizer had removed the sign of the governmental organization that was hanging on the booth — under the pressure from the Chinese officials in attendance, who object to the fact that Taiwan was shown as country with an independent government, according to Taiwan News. The episode ended with the delegation boycotting the three-day event.
What if they don’t leave, given that they’ve worked hard to make their presence known? This leads us to another dilemma: should they hold on to their identity, or concentrate on their real work, anonymously?
Tough as it is, it’s an issue that every Taiwanese company needs to think about before expanding globally.