MILAN (Reuters) - Italian car maker Fiat has apologized to China over a television commercial featuring Hollywood actor Richard Gere and a reference to Tibet.
China is a huge market for car makers which, like other multinational companies, go out of their way to avoid upsetting the country’s sensibilities about certain issues out of fear of reprisals such as a boycott of their products.
Tibet has become a focal point for protests against China’s rule over the mountainous province ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.
“Fiat ... has recently been advised that certain advertising ... could disturb the sensibility of the people within China,” the company said in a statement on Friday.
“Fiat Group extends its apologies to the Government of the People’s Republic of China and to the Chinese people.”
The company made the apology after Chinese media reported on the commercial but a spokesman said the ad would not be pulled.
China has come under criticism from human rights activists including Gere for the way it has handled violent unrest in Tibet, which seeks autonomy from the country.
Gere is a high-profile supporter of the Tibetan cause with close ties to the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader viewed by China as a traitor and instigator of the unrest.
Fiat’s apology comes after Christian Dior pulled ads from Chinese stores featuring Sharon Stone after the American actress suggested the earthquake that hit the country in May could have been the result of bad karma over Tibet.
The Fiat ad features the Delta, a new car under the Lancia brand. It can be seen on the website www.youtube.com, with Gere driving from Hollywood to Tibet, where he steps out to make handprints in the snow with a child.
The ad run began in Italy last week and will be aired elsewhere as the Delta is rolled out across Europe.
Lancia does not sell cars in China but Fiat operations there include parts, engines, cars, vans, and trucks with a number of partners.
In a comment on the auto column of www.hexun.com, one of China’s largest financial news websites, one writer said the commercial did not leave much to interpretation.
“As chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet, Richard Gere has always been regarded as the spokesman for Tibet-Independence supporters,” the writer said.
Chinese embassy officials in Rome were unavailable for comment.
Additional reporting by Yan Jiang in Beijing; Editing by Sue Thomas
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.