Lu Han And AP Cave to Commies

Lu Han Audemars Piguet staring at camera

Last Thursday, we gave you a horological heads-up on the potential impact of China’s crackdown on “effeminate” celebrities. Chinese Luxury Watch Ban Update highlighted Audemars Piguet ambassador Lu Han, suggesting that the relationship with the fresh-faced singer was headed south. Well that didn’t take long . . .

On Monday, newschainonline.com reported that Mr. Han terminated his lucrative sponsorship deal with AP. Reading between the lines, it doesn’t look like Lu Han had much of a choice.

Chinese singer and actor Lu Han, a former member of popular K-pop boy band Exo, said he would cut ties with Swiss luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet after its chief executive referred to Taiwan as a country in an interview.

Yup. AP CEO François-Henry Bennahmias dared to call the island nation of Taiwan a country. To understand the seriousness of this slip, you need a bit of context . . .

Lu Han Taiwan

The People’s Republic of China considers Taiwan nothing more and nothing less than a breakaway province. For decades, the PRC has officially, publicly and unequivocally claimed sovereignty over the world’s most densely populated country.

In 2018, China started “encouraging” international companies to list Taiwan as a part of China on their websites. Companies whose sites implied that Taiwan was a separate entity would be banned from doing business on the mainland.

The Chinese market accounts for half of all Swiss watch sales. Audemars Piguet is a Swiss watch brand. So you’d think chief executive François-Henry Bennahmias would pay homage to – or at least stay stum about – the Party’s “One-China” policy. Nope. Mr. B’s loose lips sank the Han ship. businessoffashion.com:

Lu Han is one of China’s most in-demand celebrity ambassadors, working with brands including Cartier, Gucci and (as of last month) Boucheron. He has been an ambassador for Audemars Piguet since 2018, but said in yesterday’s statement he had decided to end the relationship because “improper comments made by the Audemars Piguet brand seriously violate the one-China principle.”

Chinese netizens had been calling on Lu Han to cut ties with Audemars Piguet following the resurfacing of an interview in which the company’s chief executive, François-Henry Bennahmias, refers to Taiwan as “an ultra-modern, high-tech country.”

Though the original source was not widely shared on Weibo along with the complaints about its content, it likely comes from an article published in Watchonista in May 2020, which features this exact line from Bennahmias as he recounts a speech he had given to students in Taiwan.

Lu Han stomping grounds

Reading his interview with watchonista.com, it’s clear Mr. Bennahmias wasn’t trying to antagonize China. Or defend Taiwan’s democracy. It was a simple hat tip to Taiwan – home to three AP mono-brand boutiques.

Two days after Lu Hun cut his/her/its/their ties with AP, the watchmaker issued an apology on China’s Weibo platform: “We apologize for the recent incorrect statement. Audemars Piguet has always adhered to the one-China position and firmly safeguarded China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

I wonder how that “safeguarding the People’s Republic of China” thing works. Black Panther watches for party leaders? Swiss style money laundering? Anyway, Mr. Bennahmias‘ apology wasn’t enough . . .

Watch news - AP CEO Bennahmias

Part of the statement issued by Lu Han’s studio announcing the split said that his team had urged Audemars Piguet to apologize on its global platforms in both Chinese an English and they were unsatisfied with the local apology, issued only in Chinese.

Did AP balk at apologizing in English to avoid offending Taiwanese watch buyers or, for that matter, freedom-loving horophiles worldwide? Maybe. Maybe not. AP’s PR peeps probably reckoned the Lu Han horse had bolted. Besides, his days as a “girly boy” celeb are numbered. Unless Mr. Han’s boss – The Communist Party – demands an English mea culpa, why add fuel to the pyre?

I’m sure Mr. Bennahmias got the memo: don’t say anything to offend China’s Communist rulers. A lesson a gaggle of international sportswear and clothing companies learned the hard way.

In March, over 30 Chinese celebrities cut ties with brands such as Nike, H&M and Adidas after state media criticized the brands for expressing concerns over the use of Xinjiang cotton following complaints of abuse and discrimination against ethnic minorities in the region.

More than one million members of the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been confined to detention camps in Xinjiang, according to foreign governments and researchers.

Cultural Revolution poster

To punish the “Just Do It” brand for speaking up for Uyghurs, Chinese consumers launched a spontaneous boycott. [/sarc] Nike’s Chinese sales have tanked by nearly 40 percent.

No one expects Mr. Bennahmias to put human rights above profit (he is Swiss after all). But no matter what Audemars Piguet’s Marvelous chief executive says/doesn’t say about Chinese concentration camps, forced sterilizations, unsolicited organ donations and territorial ambitions, AP and its horological brethren are in the crosshairs.

Under the banner of “common prosperity,” The Communist Party is taking aim at wealthy Chinese. “We cannot let an unbridgeable gulf appear between the rich and the poor,” Xi told officials in January. How does a luxury watch “appear” to Party leaders looking to eliminate the gulf between wealthy Chinese and billions of impoverished subjects?

As we’ve said many times, culture eats strategy for lunch. If China’s absolute rulers turn Chinese culture against conspicuous consumption, Swiss watchmakers are f*cked. You heard it here first.

24 comments

    1. That’s just mean! I’m sure Mr. B paid a fortune for that jacket. And I bet he rides a Harley. Or at least goes to clubs where people share his love of leather.

  1. This article challenges Chinese national [in]security. The rate TTAW is going, I might no longer be able to access it where I am in, er, ‘greater China.’ Which would be a loss because I think this site is very horologically entertaining and informative.

    By the way, it’s to eke out a living; “eek” is what the AP flacks said when they discovered they had a PR crisis.

    1. Eek! Cut that bit out but walk away chastened.

      And sorry if we rattle the Chinese Communist Party’s cage to the point where we’re banned. But we are slaves to our brand.

  2. The watchonista.com search process may be messed up for other reasons. The article does turn up after searching “Bennahmias.” However, not only does “Taiwan” return no results, a search for “Japan”–which Mr. Bennahmias also mentioned–does not include the Bennahmias article, either.

    1. Thanks for the heads up. I’ve amended the text to include a link to the offending article.

      I was tempted to put the entire statement in there, but Mr. B. was dissing smart watches and I didn’t want to get distracted.

    1. Start with the fact that The Communist Party controls every organ of power: government, judiciary and military. While Xi isn’t a strict Marxist, allowing private enterprise to exist, he is a totalitarian who uses Marxist dogma to justify one Party rule.

  3. Hi Rob.

    If you have a line to Francois-Henry, could you tell him for me that I would be more than happy to be his hardcore Aussie ambassador to replace those sissy boy Chinese celebs. He can watch those watches fly out the door.

    Thank you.

  4. I fully agree with the “commies” in this case. They don’t want their next generation to be weak little soy boys that will show up on Twitter to cancel everybody, be outraged at everything, while producing nothing of value for their culture or society.

    Granted, the US form of government is so much superior. Biden, hardly even suffering with the dementia at all. And freedom of speech! Unless you talk about vaccines, or where your favorite main dude’s virus actually came from. Freedom of assembly, unless it’s more than five people. And gee, so so so many more US dollars around for everyone! Soon Robert, you’ll have millions of dollars. Or need them anyway, to buy anything.

    Seems the ole “commies” are starting to take better care of their citizens than all the rah-rah Murkan government is, eh?

    1. Yeah, cancelling is bad, therefore let’s support cancelling all people who don’t fit some arbitrary criteria our dear party leader pulled out of his ass for some political gains.

      Imagine not liking some right infringements in your own country while siding with a literal concentration camps building totalitarian dictatorship. You must have an IQ of at least 200.

  5. Most nation-states today are built on the crushed bones of indigenous population and the destruction of their cultural heritage. China’s history from before the Han dynasty to date has involved periods of expansion and consolidation west and south from its own Mesopotamia (the middle kingdom between the Yangtze and Yellow rivers). These don’t just include issues with the breakaway province of Chinese Taipei, and Xinjiang and Tibet. They extend to disputes with Viet Nam and others over the South China Sea.

    The United States knows a thing or two about aggressive expansion, elimination and assimilation. Its white landed elites led a war of property rights against the British in the 18th century. It then waged more wars and incursions in the 19th century than any other country, including the European empires of the day. Most of this aggression was directed against native American civilisation and resulted in their displacement, murder and eradication. This was state policy, just as the Chinese use state policy to establish its territorial interests today. That’s what states do, regardless of political stripes. So it was that once Theodore Roosevelt declared the internal frontier sealed, the expansionary, corporate wars of the United States spilled over into Latin America and across the Pacific.

    Today, the United States has earned a reputation for duplicity and incompetence. Losing wars abroad (Afghanistan being the latest) and at home (against Coronavirus) show it to have a weak core. It is not a reliable ally to human rights defenders anywhere, whether they are in Amazon basin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the Kurdish lands of Syria and northern Iraq. It wages war against independent, investigative journalism, and attacks personal privacy by casting all forms of human congress as a potential threat to national security. Its militarised police shoot and kill unarmed black people in industrial numbers, and beat up unarmed human rights protestors. Its health care system costs 40 per cent more than the OECD average and yet it has the lowest life expectancy of any country in that affluent group. Maternal mortality in Washington, D.C. is worse than in Syria.

    Rather than bleat impotently about the travails in other countries, Americans ought to focus their ire and agency on the parasitic corporate gulag that is their political system and economy. As far as businesses are concerned, if you want to operate in a particular jurisdiction, you are obliged to observe the prevailing legal and regulatory frameworks that organise commercial activity. If you don’t want to or can’t, feel free to take your business somewhere else. That’s how it works within the United States and any country with enforceable policy. That’s how – in a rules-based system of international trade and commerce – it works between countries too.

    The main reason that China is demonised in the Anglosphere is, in the first instance, down to maritime trade: the majority of the world’s shipping freight passes through the South China Sea, the Straits of Molucca, and adjacent water bodies. Reduce China to a two-dimensional caricature, and it becomes easier to shape the conversation and mobilise public support to a hawkish foreign policy posture. Wrap it all up in the verbiage of human rights and you get the liberal hawk. Liberal hawks don’t like to be reminded of international law even as they invoke parts of it selectively to pursue their pet peeves.

    International law does not recognise Chinese Taipei as an independent country. For that to change would require the 195 Members of the United Nations to admit it as one. It is the only global body that can confer this status (for better or for worse). The American foreign policy and intelligence establish know this, so they direct their efforts instead to cultivate public outrage in other ways to keep things in a state of unsettled ferment. That means butting into China affairs. Stability would mean continuity, and continuity grants China a placid stroll towards global pre-eminence. Despite intentions to the contrary, bipartisan American incompetence is helping to accelerate that transition.

    There is no chance that Chinese state capitalism will turn against consumption. Environmental and demographic imperatives mean the content of that consumption may shift, but when you’ve lifted 400 million people out of poverty in half a century, you’re going to work to satisfy aspiration. All that’s happening now is that the Chinese state is directing how it wants its capitalist market to operate in accordance with broader state policy, just as it has always done.

    I enjoy The Truth About Watches because its voice is clear and unabashed. It’s obvious this posture comes from a place of fiercely-guarded autonomy and this makes it an enjoyable refuge from the callow nonsense that we find across the spectrum of watch writing. But this autonomy also means it occasionally ‘goes off on one.’ The liberal hawkery of the article above is one such instance.

    1. Absolutely agree, Mr.Age_of_Surfaces.
      Personally, I’d say its is best to keep politics out of watches and avoid the matter altogether. Realism is not the most popular way that ordinary folks look at politics, despite it being the foremost theorem in IR. Liberalism takes precedence in ordinary circumstances.

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