Xiaomi has big plans for winning over Indian smartphone users, but that might mean losing fans at home. This week, the Chinese smartphone maker’s vice president Hugo Barra posted a much-criticized photo on the Chinese microblog Weibo of the launch of its latest Mi4 phone in Delhi.
The problem? Behind Barra is a map of China and India that marks a still disputed area along the two countries Himalayan border, the focus of a Sino-Indian border war in 1962, as belonging to India. The post, which was quickly deleted, caught the attention of Chinese bloggers who were incensed that a Chinese company would go against China’s official territorial claims.
While China and India have a burgeoning trade relationship, the two often regard each other with suspicion. Chief among tensions is conflicting claims over areas along the 4,057 km (about 2,500 miles) border where tensions occasionally boil over, resulting in clashes. In the map behind Barra the far right sliver of yellow marking Indian territory in between Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar includes Arunachal Pradesh, a region that China refers to as South Tibet. Even though Arunachal Pradesh is completely administered by India, and its population have been Indian citizens for decades, the land is claimed by China as well.
The map also appears to include a disputed area in Kashmir, Aksai Chin, in the northeastern tip. Disputes over the China-India border date back as far as 1846.
After this week’s press conference, angry Chinese bloggers took to Weibo to lambast Xiaomi. (Xiaomi was not immediately available for comment.) A post criticizing Xiaomi for not issuing an apology circulated on Weibo, receiving hundreds of comments. One blogger wrote (registration required), “Xiaomi is unexpectedly forgetting its roots,” to which another added, “Quick, throw Xiaomi away.” One user wrote, “Xiaomi wants to sell out its country to make larger sales.” Another called Barra a “stupid tiger,” possibly in reference to his Chinese name, which he recently announced on Weibo yesterday, Huge, or “tiger brother.”
Relations between China and India are polite, but hardly friendly. When Chinese president Xi Jinping visited India last year, Chinese and Indian soldiers were locked in a stand off at the border. (And during US president Barack Obama’s recent visit to India, Chinese state media was quick to describe the meeting as “more symbolic than pragmatic.”)
Today, both sides are racing to build infrastructure (paywall) on their respective sides of the border. For Xiaomi to win in both countries, the company is going to have to tread lightly on either side.