It is unclear whether the episode was a pure coincidence, or an intentional attempt to leverage a trending topic on the part of the company, which did not reply to a request for comment.

Ironically, some Chinese internet users say they used the incident as a chance to learn more about the reality of the Hong Kong protests, which have largely been depicted in the official state media narrative as an unpopular movement initiated by a small group of extremists who advocate for independence. “I had no interest in the ad initially, but thanks to Huanqiu I actually learned more about the protests using the opportunity,” said a Weibo user under a news report about the criticism of the ad. Some users labeled Hunaqiu’s comment an act of “literary persecution” towards Xiaomi, saying it had gone too far.

Xiaomi is not the first company that has run afoul of China’s nationalist sentiments toward the protests. Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flagship carrier, has borne the brunt of Beijing’s wrath over expressions of support for the protests on the part of employees. A number of Cathay’s employees and executives have either been fired or resigned amid pressure from China’s aviation regulator, including the airline’s former CEO, who stepped down earlier this month.

Pocari Sweat, a Japanese-owned sports drink, was also the focus of strongly worded condemnations and widespread calls for a boycott from Chinese state-owned media in July, after the company’s Hong Kong branch reportedly pulled advertising from the city’s largest television station, TVB, which had faced criticism of being too pro-China in its coverage.

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