Casual café Tsui Wah Restaurant has become the latest brand to be unwillingly pulled into a controversy over the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong.
On Thursday, a picture of Tsui Wah's pepper and sugar packets started to go viral on Weibo. Comments claimed the packets are insulting to Hong Kong police and urged China citizens to boycott the restuarant.
A trending topic, #TsuiWahSuspectedofInsultingPolicemen, garnered 36 million views in just a couple of hours.
The offending packets feature a dog character whose uniform suggests that of a police officer. Above a picture of the character throwing something into the air, the Chinese characters read "出椒", which means "spraying pepper". Some have interpreted this as a reference to police use of pepper spray against protestors.
The Chinese phrase "下一代，睇我地" (in small text on the brown packet, above the English phrase "Use it! Recycle it!") translates to "Next generation, rely on me". This, to some people, implies support for Hong Kong's young people and thus a pro-independence stance.
The only issue? The brand has issued a statement saying the packets were developed in 2015. "The slogan on the packets originally means to call for our clients to protect the environment," said the statement sent to Campaign Asia-Pacific, stressing the designs did not allude to the police.
However, "To avoid unnecessary troubles, the restaurant will temporarily remove the packets," Tsui Wah's statement said, adding, "For those who purposely defame Tsui Wah, we'll take legal actions."
Tsui Wah started as a tea shop in Hong Kong in the 1960s. It is listed on the main board of Hong Kong Stock Exchange and operates over 70 stores in Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland.