French President's Ride In Red Flag Car Sparks Online Debate

    On French President François Hollande's visit to China last week, many Weibo users asked why he was the only one in a Chinese car.
    French President François Hollande steps out of the Red Flag L7 during his state visit to China last week. (Car News China)
    Liz FloraAuthor
      Published   in Macro

    Weibo Users Scrutinize Vehicles Of Hollande's Lunch Partners#

    French President François Hollande steps out of the Red Flag L7 during his state visit to China last week. (Car News China)

    When French President François Hollande made his state visit to China last week, the official main topic of discussion was trade. However, thanks to savvy Weibo users' ongoing propensity to scrutinize the symbols conveyed amidst the pomp and circumstance of these high-profile events, an online debate was sparked when it was noted that although Hollande was transported in a car made by domestic brand Red Flag, most of his Chinese companions preferred foreign cars.

    The conversation was started by Chinese celebrity Hong Huang, editor of fashion magazine iLook and one of the most-followed personalities on the Chinese microblog site. Hong, who has long been known for her efforts to promote and elevate the status of Chinese brands, pointed out on her account that when Hollande attended a lunch with several Chinese business tycoons, he was, ironically, the only one being driven away in a non-foreign car:

    An afternoon lunch with the French president included eight Chinese industry leaders. After lunch, a row of Mercedes-Benz and BMW vehicles waited for the Chinese tycoons, while a Red Flag car waving the French flag was waiting for the French president?

    Hong's statement was reposted almost 2000 times, and created a lively conversation about the status of domestic Chinese brands as compared to that of foreign ones. According to the blog Car News China, Hollande was traveling in the Chinese luxury carmaker's new L7 model, which debuted at the 2012 Beijing Auto Show. Chinese brands such as Red Flag have struggled to compete with the booming market of foreign luxury cars in China.

    Some users commenting on the story saw no problem with the business leaders' choice of foreign cars. "Chinese industrialists are cosmopolitan and open-minded," argued one commenter on the thread. "This is just like Chinese people using silverware to eat and a Europeans using chopsticks; it's fashionable," said another.

    A luxury car waits outside the location of Hollande's lunch with business tycoons last week. (Hong Huang/Weibo)

    Others believed that the event showed an embarrassing lack of patriotism. One commenter said, "They lack national respect and confidence!" Another stated, "Citizens won't drive domestic cars, but Red Flag flies the French flag… sigh!" "Too shameful to show one's face," lamented one user.

    The discussion seems to be connected to the perceived status of Red Flag as compared to foreign brands. Several users sympathized with the business tycoons by making disparaging remarks about Red Flag. "Actually, the French president also wanted to ride in a Benz…" said one. "Red Flag is not as convenient as Rolls-Royce," said another. However, many were more hopeful that Red Flag would gain popularity. "I hope Red Flag will rise once again," stated one user, while another optimistically remarked, "Domestic products are in the process of gaining more esteem."

    Others argued that private business owners did not deserve to be judged on their personal car choices. "Huang said they were industry tycoons, not government officials," said one critic.

    The top carmaker of choice for government officials is currently foreign brand Audi, but with the ongoing official luxury car crackdown, which includes recent military license plate restrictions for certain luxury brands, Red Flag may be poised to make the comeback some users hoped for.

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