LA Ram’s marketing plan for China issues with local Taiwanese Americans

Taiwanese immigrant Paul Chen is quite used to companies treating his home country as part of China. While Chen, not to mention most islanders, sees Taiwan as an autonomous democracy independent of China, the mainland treats it as an apostate province – and most brands have fallen in line to infiltrate one of the world’s most lucrative markets.

Those who are considered not to recognize the “One China” policy have been pressured to apologize to Chinese consumers as luxury brands Coach and Givenchy did for T-shirt designs which indicated that Taiwan is a country.

Pro wrestler and actor John Cena repeatedly made a mea culpa to Chinese fans in Mandarin to refer to Taiwan as a country while promoting the latest “Fast and Furious” movie earlier this year.

But Chen, who leads Taiwan Center Foundation in Rosemead, felt a particular pain as his local football team seemed to bow to China’s claim that Taiwan is not a sovereign state.

The NFL announced this month it had given the LA Rams exclusive marketing rights in China and Australia, while other teams were allocated smaller international markets or had to share countries.

The new strategy was accompanied by a map that overshadowed China – and Taiwan along with it.

“We expect the Rams organization would know better,” Chen said, noting that SoCal’s Taiwanese diaspora is the largest in the country, estimated to be at least a quarter of a million strong. (Nationally, the estimate can hover around 700,000.)

Chen said he and other Taiwanese U.S. organizations urge the NFL to apologize for “this oversight or mistake” and to revise its marketing card accordingly.

“We grew up knowing that Taiwan has never been under the rule of Communist China,” said Chen, who emigrated from Taiwan to Southern California as he attended junior high school. “So all this needs to be clarified.”

What does the US government think about all this? It shares “strong, unofficial ties” with Taiwan and supports it militarily, but says it does not support its independence.

Those who support Taiwan’s independence say the island is not only politically but also culturally separated from China. And practically, marketing for both does not make sense, as Taiwan uses traditional characters, while simplified scripting is the standard in China, Chen said.

The controversy between Taiwan and China has plagued the sports world lately, as tensions have risen in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen thanked Enes Kanter Freedom of the Boston Celtics after the center, an outspoken critic of human rights violations in China and his native Turkey said in a video clip that “Taiwan is not part of China.” Freedom has too paralyzed former NBA player Jeremy Lin to play in the Chinese Basketball Federation and said he should “Stand with Taiwan!”

Then there is the long-running controversy that Taiwanese athletes may only compete under Chinese Taipei’s banner. Television companies got China’s angry after calling the team Taiwan during last summer’s matches in Tokyo.

A masked Asian-American man holds a printed sign that reads "Not a fan of this card 'and "Taiwan is not China."

Taiwanese American football fan Ken Wu showed his dismay with the NFL marketing card by bringing a sign to a recent match

Chen said Taiwanese Americans who are outraged by the NFL card have said their posts and have not called for a boycott of the league or the Rams.

But that does not mean they stop reporting their complaints. At a Seattle Seahawks-Rams game on Dec. 21 at SoFi Stadium, a Taiwanese American football fan, Ken Wu, waved a sign reproducing the NFL card with the extra abbreviation of “WTF.”

Neither the NFL nor the Rams responded to requests for comment.

Do you have a question about Southern California’s Asian American society?

Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of the growing communities of Southern California.

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