Anti-Japanese sentiment has swept across China in the wake of territorial disputes over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — islands which are claimed by Taiwan, Japan and China and referred to as the Senkaku Islands in Japan — in the East China Sea, leading to a boycott of Japanese products that has swept through the automobile and electric-appliance industries.
That boycott has now spilled over into the food industry, embroiling two Taiwanese food groups that operate in China — Tingyi Holding Corp and Uni-President Enterprises Corp.
The two have reportedly accused each other of having considerable Japanese investment and urged the public to boycott each other’s products. Since making inroads into China’s market in the 1990s, the two rivals have been locked in a fierce battle for market share.
In May, the two groups fought bitterly over distribution networks. Several supermarkets in Chinese cities such as Shengyang and Anhui decided not to stock Uni-President instant noodles after signing an agreement to exclusively sell Tingyi Holding items.
The 21st Century Economic Report, a mass-circulated and influential financial media in China, cited a source as saying Uni-President was engineering a campaign against Tingyi products through leaflets and messages on microblogs.
Evidence provided by the source included internal e-mails from Uni-President and photos of the leaflets.
The e-mail reportedly asked the company’s employees to capitalize on the anti-Japanese sentiment in China and make it known that Japanese investors hold an 85 percent stake in Tingyi Holding Corp.
It was found the senders and distributors were indeed employees of Uni-President, but when asked, the company said the e-mails were forged and it was opposed to any illicit competition.
In turn, Uni-President was recently hit by a similar campaign in Changsha in China’s Hunan Province.
Reports said a worker for the Tingyi Group distributed “patriotic leaflets” filled with attacks on Uni-President, calling it a Japanese-funded enterprise that has profited from the nation’s woes.
Tingyi said it implored Uni-President not to target it last month, but the latter denied any involvement in the battle.
Nonetheless, Tingyi said it received calls from a Uni-President official this week suggesting that “both sides think about how to control the situation.”
Tingyi said it has never hidden the fact that Japanese investors hold a stake in the company, but noted that Taiwanese shareholders still own a majority stake.
“There is nothing special about an enterprise introducing foreign funds and it should not be treated differently,” Tingyi said in a statement.