BEIJING (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – Chinese budget retailer Miniso Group Holding has apologised for styling itself as a Japanese designer brand and says it will make changes across its stores to rectify this, amid the latest wave of local nationalism fuelled by geopolitical tension over Taiwan.

The Guangzhou-based company, which has more than 5,000 stores in China and abroad, has for years described itself as “a Japanese-inspired lifestyle product retailer”, and has been compared with the Muji chain operated by Tokyo-listed Ryohin Keikaku.

However, earlier this month, it drew anger from Chinese social media users after its Spanish Instagram account posted a picture of dolls, one of which it called a “Japanese geisha doll” but which Chinese users pointed out was wearing a qipao dress, a traditional Chinese outfit.

Last Thursday (Aug 18), Miniso issued a long apology, saying that the company in its early days had “taken the wrong path” with its brand positioning and marketing strategy, having hired a Japanese designer as its chief designer between the end of 2015 and 2018.

Miniso said it had since late 2019 started to remove Japanese elements from its stores and shopping bags, adding that it had already done so across its 3,100 shops in China.

It also vowed to start changing the signboards and interior decoration in its more than 1,900 stores abroad. It said it would complete the moves by the end of March 2023.

The company said it would punish senior executives involved with the previous strategy and that its headquarters would be responsible for all its overseas social media accounts in future.

“We will strictly examine the content and do a good job of Chinese culture and values’ exportation,” Miniso said.

The Miniso pivot is another example of how consumer nationalism in China has become a minefield for brands to navigate, with companies ranging from Mercedes-Benz to H&M being boycotted for perceived slights in recent years.

It also reflects how “foreign” elements have now become a liability in China, a sea change from several years ago when Miniso capitalised on the popularity of actual Japanese chains like Muji to lure local shoppers.

The China-Japan relationship deteriorated after United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan earlier this month.

China called off a face-to-face meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Japanese counterpart over a Group of Seven statement expressing concern about Beijing’s “threatening actions” around Taiwan during and after Mrs Pelosi’s visit.

Anti-Japanese sentiment is growing across the country. Local media reported that a young woman was detained and interrogated by police last week after wearing a kimono for a photo shoot in the eastern city of Suzhou.

Officials in Tokyo have become increasingly outspoken about the importance of Taiwan’s national security to Japan’s own stability, a development that has sparked anger in China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory.