China once looked like the one bright spot amidst Samsung’s botched rollout of the Galaxy Note 7. The Korean electronics giant did not at first include China in its worldwide recall of the phones after some of them started spontaneously combusting. It assured consumers that the Note 7s sold in China used a different battery and were safe.
Today (Oct. 11) that is changing. The Chinese government department that oversees consumer product safety said Samsung will recall all of the Galaxy Note 7s sold to China—a total of 190,984 (link in Chinese) devices. It says “there have been 20 incidents involving overheating or fire-related accidents” with the phones in China. It urges consumers to exchange their devices for new ones from Samsung or get a refund.
Originally, Samsung shipped out two versions of the Galaxy Note 7. The ones sent to China contained batteries made by Hong Kong-based Amperex, while those sent to the rest of the world contained batteries made by Samsung SDI (a sister company to Samsung Electronics, which makes the phones).
Samsung’s initial recall of the Galaxy Note 7 didn’t include phones shipped to China (excluding 1,858 given out as early test units), suggesting that only Samsung SDI battery were faulty. When Chinese consumers started complaining their phones were exploding too, the company reassured them in a long statement that there was no problem—the safe replacement phones offered overseas used the same supplier as the phones shipped to China from the start. It added ”external heat outside the internal system caused phones to explode.” It didn’t specify what that meant.
But on Oct. 10 Samsung told its retailers and carrier partners globally to stop selling all Galaxy Note 7 devices, and urged consumers not to switch them on. It’s not clear if Samsung’s statement prompted China’s government to take action, or if preparations for a recall were underway before then.
Still, the recall in China suggests that fixing the Galaxy Note 7 will take more than merely swapping out the battery. It’s possible Amperex’s batteries were no better than Samsung SDI’s, or that something else in the phones is causing them to explode. Neither Samsung nor Amperex responded immediately to Quartz’s inquiries about the explosions’ probable cause.
In the weeks after the first recall, Samsung had already faced criticism from Chinese consumers and state media, which slammed it for not recalling phones shipped to China despite reports of explosions. That backlash prompted it to issue its lengthy statement. Whatever respect Samsung earned back, however, has likely disappeared. Nationalist-minded internet commenters have voiced their anger online:
“If it weren’t for the government, would Samsung still issue a recall in China?” wrote one person on Weibo, China’s Twitter-esque social network, adding, “You can clearly see Samsung’s attitude towards Chinese consumers—is it not prejudice, bullying poor, stupid Chinese consumers?”
Echo Huang Yinyin contributed to this piece.