It's believed that Maserati decided to avoid any action that might threaten their business in China and bowed out of their sponsorship agreement with the Golden Horse Awards. Credit: The National.

Italian luxury sports car company Maserati, which is owned by the Fiat Chrysler group, announced it would be withdrawing its sponsorship for the 56th Golden Horse film awards scheduled to take place in Taipei on Nov. 23, the Taiwan News reported.

The company made the announcement on the Chinese social media platform Weibo on Oct. 23. After recent incidents involving the NBA and Dior, the news makes Maserati and Fiat Chrysler the latest corporations to buckle under China’s economic pressure.

Earlier in August, the China Film Administration officially suspended Chinese films and filmmakers from participating in the 2019 Golden Horse Awards, which led to Hong Kong film companies following suit, with titles being pulled from the competition and one Hong Kong director resigning from the competition’s official jury, the report said.

The boycott of the 2019 Golden Horse Awards — a festival that is billed as Asia’s equivalent of Hollywood’s Academy Awards — is reportedly China’s way of punishing Taiwan for pro-Taiwan independence comments made during the 2018 event by Taiwanese filmmaker Fu Yue.

Under the likely threat of being denied market access or facing punitive financial measures, Maserati decided to avoid any action that might threaten their business in China and bowed out of their sponsorship agreement with the Golden Horse Awards, the report said.

In their official statement, they employed the standard language of the Chinese Communist Party stating that the company “always respected China’s territorial integrity, its history and culture while firmly upholding the ‘one China’ principle.”

AFP reported that the company has blamed their local Taipei office for the initial agreement to support the Golden Horse Awards while denying that the decision reflected the company’s official stance.

The Golden Horse awards were founded by the island’s authorities in 1962. But the event has evolved in recent years into a major platform for Chinese-language filmmakers around the world to showcase their work, attracting stars from Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China and elsewhere.

Fue Yue stirred controversy when she accepted an award for best documentary at the festival last year, CNN reported.

“I really hope our country will one day be treated as a genuine independent entity,” Fu Yue said. “This is my biggest wish as a Taiwanese.”

The speech drew loud applause and cheers from the audience in Taipei. But Fu’s comments were greeted with outrage in China, and her social media was inundated with critical comments, the CNN report said.

The situation escalated after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen — herself a frequent target of angry Chinese nationalists — defended Fu and praised the awards for highlighting the island’s freedoms.

“We have never accepted and will never accept the ‘Taiwan, China’ label — Taiwan is Taiwan,” she said at the time.

Other major Western brands, including Christian Dior, Zara and a handful of US-based airlines, have all apologized in the past couple of years for how they have described Taiwan, the CNN report said.

Dior, for example, was moved to say it supports China’s “sovereignty and integrity” last week after the French fashion house used a map of China during a presentation that didn’t include Taiwan.

Ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have also emerged as a point of contention for Western companies operating in China. The NBA recently faced a fierce backlash in the country after a team executive tweeted support for the protests.

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