Singapore Ya Kun Kaya Toast outlet in China under probe over Taiwan issue


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BEIJING (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): The authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing are investigating Singapore coffee-and-toast chain Ya Kun Kaya Toast for listing Taiwan as a country in its promotional material.

Whether the outlet in Nanjing's Qixia district can reopen for business will depend on the outcome of the investigation, the local branch of the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) told The Straits Times on Thursday (Oct 21).

The SAMR is China's top market watchdog and possesses wide-ranging powers from company licensing to drafting laws.

Market regulators ordered Ya Kun's outlet in Nanjing Golden Eagle shopping mall to close on Monday, after netizens complained that a promotional video shown at the eatery listed Taiwan as among 10 countries where the chain operated.

"We will release a statement after investigations are completed," said a representative of SAMR, without specifying a timeline.

Ya Kun's two other outlets in Nanjing are not under investigation as they have not played the controversial video clip at their shops, local media reported.

Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province and has punished corporations and chastised governments for referring to Taiwan as a country.

In 2018, Japanese retailer Muji was fined 200,000 yuan (S$42,077) in Shanghai for using packaging that listed Taiwan as a country.

That year, the Civil Aviation Administration of China also demanded that several airlines remove references to Taiwan as a separate country on their websites.

China's cyber warriors - known infamously as Little Pinks - jumped on Ya Kun on Tuesday, after a state media news outlet released a 44-second clip on the chain's trouble.

A hashtag on microblogging site Weibo referring to the Ya Kun promotional video clip has drawn 94.6 million views and sparked 2,787 discussions so far, with netizens calling for the chain to leave China.

A search on Ya Kun's website returned an error message after clicking on its overseas locations tab, but online marketplace Anxingjiameng lists the company as having 16 outlets in China in cities such as Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hangzhou.

In Singapore, netizens on ST's Facebook page showed their support for Ya Kun by commenting that they would be heading to the eatery chain for their meals.

Some netizens wondered why the Little Pinks felt the need to attack Ya Kun, with others also taking issue with Weibo's ban on controversial Malaysian rapper Namewee and Taiwan-based Australian singer Kimberley Chen earlier this month.

On Oct 15, the duo had released a satirical song titled Fragile that referred to the hypersensitivity of the Little Pinks.

A video clip of the song, which was posted on Weibo before it was banned, starts with a disclaimer: "Please be cautious if you are fragile pink", and ends with footage of glass shattering.

Both Namewee and Chen were banned on Weibo after the release of the song.

Facebook user Ken Chung said that the Little Pinks had proven the singers right, with their latest attacks on Ya Kun.

But another user Ari Netanhayu said that Ya Kun should be mindful of the sensitivities in China if it wants to do business in the world's second-largest economy.

"If not, just close (its) China business then (Ya Kun) can say whatever (it wants)."

Ya Kun branding and market development director Jesher Loi told ST earlier that the chain was working with the authorities on the issue. He declined to comment further and could not be reached on Thursday.

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