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Toyota Ads Draw Fire

Once again, a Japanese company finds itself apologizing to the Chinese people for inadvertently offending their national pride.

Toyota motor Corp said Thursday it will stop running a pair of magazine ads denounced as offensive to China and apologized to its Chinese customers for "unpleasant feelings" the ads may have created.

The two ads, which ran in the latest issue of Auto Fan, a Beijing-based monthly, look harmless enough at first glance, but many Chinese readers said they were furious at the implied message of Japanese superiority relayed by the advertisements.

The first ad shows a Toyota Land Cruiser pulling a broken-down truck, which looks similar to a Chinese military vehicle, up a rocky incline. The suggestion, according to critics, is that Japanese SUVs are more durable than China's military equipment - a statement sure to draw heated remarks in China, considering Japan's military past in the region.

The second ad shows a stone lion, a traditional symbol of power in China, saluting one of Toyota's new Prado SUVs. Toyota translates the word Prado as "Badao" in Chinese, a word that means "high-handed" or "domineering."

The tagline reads "You have to respect Baoda."

Readers of the magazine flocked to the Internet to denounce the ads in various chat rooms.

"Why not resist Japanese goods," suggested one online writer going by the nickname Epdlfoywt. "I don't believe that Japanese (companies) can live well without a huge Chinese market."

A writer using the pen name Irvenliu said: "The magazine editors are idiots, they just know how to make money."

Other online comments called for Japanese goods to be pulled out of the stores and burned, but most included language that can't be re-printed here.

One district Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau in Beijing is investigating to see if the ads are illegal.

"If they have the effect of hurting the nation's feeling, it will be considered a violation of the advertisement publication code," the official said. If the ads are illegal, they will be banned, and Toyota could be fined.

"I don't think the ads will affect the business of Toyota," said Gu Qun, an analyst for Automotive Resources Asia Ltd. "What most real buyers care about is price and model performance."

This is not the first case in which Chinese consumers have let loose with sentiments against Japanese firms.

In September, a Sino-Japanese joint venture was forced to shelve the flotation of its initial public offering shares in the domestic bourse amid a backlash from investors who complained the firm was named after Japan's emperor during the country's invasion of China more than 50 years ago.

The company has since changed its name and floated its IPO.

(eastday.com December 5, 2003)

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