Lu Han calls time on Audemars Piguet after CEO says Taiwan is a 'country'

A handout photo. Lu Han is among the most popular and highest-paid celebrities in China, and had been the brand ambassador of Audemars Piguet since 2018.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Chinese pop star Lu Han has cut ties with Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet after the luxury brand’s CEO described Taiwan as a country in an interview.

The studio of the actor and singer, a former member of K-pop boy band Exo, announced the move in a statement on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, saying Lu was terminating his “cooperation relationship” with the luxury label.

Audemars Piguet came under fire in China after CEO François-Henry Bennahmias referred to Taiwan as “a very tech-oriented country” in a video conversation months ago.

“National interests are above all else. Mr Lu Han and Lu Han Studio will resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Weibo post said.

Beijing considers Taiwan to be a renegade Chinese province , to be reunited by force if necessary.

The Swiss brand on Saturday posted a statement in Chinese on Weibo, apologising for its error. “We apologise for the recent misrepresentation. Audemars Piguet always adheres to the ‘one China’ position and firmly upholds China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement read.

Lu’s studio said they had urged the watch brand to apologise on global platforms in Chinese and English, but failed to reach an agreement with the company, which led Lu to cut endorsement ties.

Lu, 31, is among the most popular and highest-paid celebrities in China today and has been the brand ambassador of Audemars Piguet since 2018.

This is not the first time that a Chinese star has ended an endorsement deal with an international luxury brand over nationalistic issues, although such partnerships are hard-won.

In March, a string of Chinese celebrities cut ties with the global names such as Burberry, Nike, Calvin Klein, and H&M, after the brands spoke out against sourcing raw material from the far-western Chinese region of Xinjiang over concerns regarding alleged forced labour.

Lu has more than 60 million followers on Weibo. He made social media history for the second time by breaking his own Guinness record for the most comments on a Weibo post when, in 2015, one of his earlier posts about his favourite football team, Manchester United, clocked up more than 100 million responses.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.