Germany’s Leica draws fire in China over ‘tank man’ ad

German camera maker Leica has become the latest company to draw fire over an advertisement deemed offensive in China, distancing itself from a short film that broaches the taboo subject of the 1989 Tiananmen protest crackdown.

Germany's Leica draws fire in China over 'tank man' ad
American photojournalist Jeff Widener of the Associated Press (depicted here by an actor) took the famous picture of the anonymous 'tank man'. Photo: Screengrab

A short promotional film released this week depicts Leica-wielding photojournalists at work in danger zones around the world, focusing on one Western shooter’s struggle to get in place for the famed “tank man” photo.

That picture, of an ordinary citizen facing down a Chinese army tank, is perhaps the most iconic image from the weeks-long pro-democracy protests that paralysed Beijing in 1989.

The demonstrations were violently suppressed by armed forces, with hundreds and perhaps thousands believed killed.

The subject has been essentially banned from public discourse ever since and is particularly sensitive now as the 30th anniversary of the crackdown approaches in early June.

The video ends with an image of Leica’s logo and the statement “This film is dedicated to those who lend their eyes to make us see.”

The film sparked angry comments from Chinese netizens in recent days.

A company spokeswoman told the South China Morning Post that the video, produced by Brazilian agency F/Nazca Saatchi Saatchi, was not officially sanctioned by Leica.

Leica “must therefore distance itself from the content shown in the video and regrets any misunderstandings or false conclusions that may have been drawn”, the paper quoted spokeswoman Emily Anderson saying.

AFP was not immediately able to obtain further comment from Leica.

Searches on Chinese social media for the film or discussion of it failed to return any results on Saturday, suggesting that China’s massive censorship machine was blocking the video and any comments about it.

However, Leica’s company account on the popular Weibo platform was accessible and the word “Leica” was not blocked, contrary to previous media reports.

Leica joins a growing list of foreign companies to learn the hard way about the political sensitivities that go with operating in China’s gigantic market.

Last year, Mercedes-Benz apologised for “hurting the feelings” of China’s people after its Instagram account used a quote by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who is vilified by Beijing as a separatist.

Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana also issued a recent mea culpa after its products were pulled from lucrative Chinese e-commerce platforms over an Instagram post seen in China as culturally offensive.

And hotel group Marriott’s Chinese website was shut down by authorities after a customer questionnaire listed Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong as separate countries, which Beijing fiercely opposes.

Marriott apologised and changed the wording.

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Germany toughens China travel warning over ‘invasive’ Covid tests

Germany has toughened its advisory against travel to China, warning that travellers could be placed under hospital quarantine for weeks upon arrival and subjected to "invasive" medical tests even if they have previously recovered from the coronavirus.

Germany toughens China travel warning over 'invasive' Covid tests
A plane flying from Frankfurt airport. Photo: DPA

In its latest travel advisory update, the Foreign Ministry said that the stringent measures were imposed on “people cured of Covid-19”, as well as others who test positive for antibodies because of an undetected illness, or others who had arrived on the same flight and who test positive for the coronavirus.

“Medical measures applied by the Chinese side are invasive and include in part daily blood tests and computer scans,” the Foreign Ministry said.

All travellers arriving in China are required to serve a 14-day quarantine at a location determined by the government.

While small children are “as a rule” allowed to spend their quarantine with their parents, those aged 14 years and up can be placed in isolation away from their family.

The Süddeutsche newspaper reported that the ministry had heightened its warning after two German nationals were held in hospital quarantine for several weeks.

Both had recovered from the coronavirus previously and had tested positive for antibodies, added the report, noting that they were nevertheless forced to undergo medical tests.

The newspaper said the Foreign Ministry had filed protests with the Chinese government over how the two Germans were treated.