A report out of Beijing today notes that Apple and KFC experienced a surprise backlash from nationalists over Beijing's spat with the Philippines over the South China Sea. Nationalists are protesting at KFC outlets and calling for a boycott, spurred by government accusations that Washington encouraged Manila to oppose Beijing's claims to vast tracts of ocean.
Photos circulated online show young Chinese wearing scarves with patriotic slogans smashing Apple iPhones in protest.
State media have fanned public anger with a torrent of criticism of last week's ruling by a U.N. tribunal, which found no legal basis for Beijing's claim to most of the South China Sea.
"The Chinese public, as optimistic and positive as they are, are deeply patriotic and nationalistic, especially people who are younger," said James Roy of the research firm China Market Research Group. KFC and Apple "are just very closely associated with the United States, and you are seeing people picking the closest symbol they can think of to demonstrate against."
The protests are a reminder of the political risks for global brands in China, where they regularly become targets of nationalist sentiment, often stirred up by official media.
The Chinese leadership has tried to tamp down this week's protests with demands in state media to leave foreign companies and their customers alone.
The government's Xinhua News Agency officially stated that "This is not the right way to express patriotism." The China Daily newspaper called the protests "jingoism that does a disservice to the spirit of devotion to the nation."
An Apple spokeswoman responded to a request for comment by pointing to CEO Tim Cook's positive comments in April about the company's future in China. Cook said Apple was "really optimistic" and planned to open five more stores in China during the current quarter for a total of 40.