Sun, Jul 15, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Forbidden City Starbucks closes after seven years

AGENCIES , BEIJING

Visitors walk near the padlocked door of the closed Starbucks outlet in Beijing's Forbidden City yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

A controversial Starbucks coffee shop in the Forbidden City, the former imperial palace at the heart of Beijing, has closed its doors after years of opposition.

The froth over Starbucks at Beijing's 587-year-old Forbidden City has highlighted Chinese sensitivity about cultural symbols and unease over an influx of foreign pop culture.

A campaign for its closure has been brewing since early this year, when a television anchor complained that the American chain's presence in the symbol of the Chinese nation was trampling on Chinese culture.

The 20m2 outlet opened in 2000 prompting a media backlash so severe that the museum authorities considered revoking its lease after a couple of months. It has operated without the usual outward corporate Starbucks bunting in recent years.

"Starbucks shouldn't be here. Why bring something so Western to an ancient place like this?" steamed an Australian tourist who gave his name as Justin.

The shop closed on Friday. By yesterday morning, newspapers covered the windows while a crew of workers set up a souvenir shop inside.

Eden Woon, Starbucks vice-president for Greater China, said the museum management had decided to introduce its own branded stores and merchandise after a year-long review.

Starbucks was offered the option to revamp the outlet as a standard coffee shop selling domestic coffee and other beverages alongside its own brew, but decided it wanted to maintain its own brand.

"We have always been in touch and on good terms," Woon said. "My understanding is the decision was amicable and not aimed at Starbucks."

The company's 3,000 international stores include 239 outlets in mainland China, where many competing coffee chains also sport a round green logo similar to the registered Starbucks logo.

Woon said palace managers made the decision after visiting US sites such as national parks and seeing that they required commercial outlets to operate under their brand name.

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