TEXT OF STORY
Renita Jablonski: About a hundred days until the Olympics in China. You can bet corporate sponsors are counting down just as much as officials in Beijing. But multinational companies face a tricky environment in China. You’ve probably heard about the backlash at a major French company, but Marketplace’s Scott Tong says it’s not stopping there. He’s with us now from Shanghai. Scott, who else is a target now, and why?
Scott Tong: Well, Korean companies may be the next target here in China. A couple of days ago, the torch was in South Korea and there was some violence. And for people inside China, many of them, their response has been, “Well, let’s boycott a Korean company.” And that’s followed this pattern, because early on in the torch relay, it was France and Paris where it got really ugly. And so, the big company that’s still the No. 1 target is the French big box chain Carrefour.
Jablonski: So, Scott, what’s a company like Carrefour to do in this storm?
Tong: Well, to try to make it go away. So, what Carrefour has done in the last few days is taken out these half-page ads in local Chinese newspapers saying, “We support the games.” And their staffers just stared wearing these Olympic-colored uniforms. Some big companies have planned on this strategy from Day 1. Coca-Cola is a megasponsor. They have a song on the Coca-Cola China Web site with a lot of political overtones. It’s called “Red Around the World.” And McDonald’s is doing something similar. They have this cheerleading contest for who can wish China can win the best. So, playing to nationalism, trying to profit off it, is a strategy that companies have employed for a while.
Jablonski: The Web’s been a big part of the communication on both ends of this. Has the government stepped in at all in that game?
Tong: Well, early on in this movement, the government censors on the Internet were allowing all of this anger to kind of build up against these foreign corporate targets. And then, at some point, almost a week ago, the tone changed. And then the Internet search engine censors got involved, because right now, if you type in Carrefour on one of the main Chinese search engines, you get one of those error messages, as if you’ve typed in a word that doesn’t make any sense.
Jablonski: What are the people saying that you’re talking to about how all of this is playing out?
Tong: What I find striking is near unanimity in this anger that China has been misperceived, that the foreign media have characterized China the wrong way.
Jablonski: Scott Tong in Shanghai. Scott, thanks a lot.
Tong: OK, Renita.
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