India summons S Korean envoy on Hyundai tweet in Pak, says it’s ‘unacceptable’
Social media posts by the Pakistan distributor of Hyundai Motors supporting the Islamabad-backed Kashmir Solidarity Day triggered a diplomatic row, with India summoning the South Korean ambassador to lodge a strong protest over the matter.
The matter also figured in a phone conversation on Tuesday between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and South Korea’s foreign minister Chung Eui-yong, who called his Indian counterpart in an effort to clear the air on the issue and to contain the fallout of the spat.
Pakistan has observed the Kashmir Solidarity Day on February 5 since 2004 to express its support to separatists backing the merger of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan. Islamabad says it offers political, diplomatic and moral support to the Kashmiri people but New Delhi has for long accused the Pakistani side of fomenting unrest and supporting terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, and beyond.
The distributor of Hyundai Motors was among the several Pakistani and multinational companies that posted messages on Twitter and Facebook supporting the Kashmir Solidarity Day on Saturday. The messages initially sparked outrage on social media, and there were numerous messages from Indian users calling for a boycott of the South Korean company and accusing it of supporting terrorism.
The external affairs ministry summoned South Korean ambassador Chang Jae-bok on Monday and conveyed the “strong displeasure of the government on the unacceptable social media post by Hyundai Pakistan”, according to ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.
“It was highlighted that this matter concerned India’s territorial integrity on which there could be no compromise,” Bagchi said. India expects Hyundai Motor to take “appropriate action to properly address these issues”, he added.
South Korean foreign minister Chung Eui-yong also telephoned Jaishankar on Tuesday morning. “While they discussed several issues, the South Korean foreign minister also conveyed that they regretted the offence caused to the people and government of India by the social media post,” Bagchi said.
Jaishankar acknowledged the call from his South Korean counterpart in a tweet and said they had discussed “bilateral and multilateral issues as also the Hyundai matter”.
The Indian ambassador in Seoul contacted the Hyundai headquarters on Sunday and sought an explanation over the social media posts. “A statement was also issued by Hyundai Motors conveying its deep regret to the people of India and making it clear that it does not comment on the political or religious issues,” Bagchi said.
“India welcomes investments by foreign companies in various sectors. But it is also expected that such companies or their affiliates will refrain from false and misleading comments on matters of sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added.
Hyundai Motors in Pakistan is a joint venture between the South Korean firm and Nishat Group, one of Pakistan’s largest conglomerates with interests in areas ranging from cement to textiles. In a message posted on Twitter, the Pakistani distributor said: “Let us remember the sacrifices of our Kashmiri brothers and stand in support as they continue to struggle for freedom.”
The distributor posted a separate message on Facebook that said: “Praying for the liberation of our eternally beautiful Kashmir today and always!” Both messages were either deleted or restricted by Tuesday as a result of the controversy.
Hyundai Motor India too sought to distance itself from the row, posting a statement on its social media accounts that said the company, as a matter of business policy, does not comment on political and religious issues in any specific region. “Therefore, it is clearly against Hyundai Motor’s policy that the independently-owned distributor in Pakistan made unauthorised Kashmir-related social media posts from their own accounts,” the statement said.
The Pakistan distributor was made “acutely aware of the inappropriateness of the action” and the Indian subsidiary took measures to “ensure the distributor, which misused the Hyundai brand identity, has removed the social media posts”. Processes were also put in place to “prevent a future recurrence”.
Several Pakistani businesses or affiliates of global brands – including KFC, Kia Motors, Pizza Hut, Osaka Batteries, Isuzu D-Max, Bosch Pharmaceuticals, Atlas Honda Limited – had also posted messages on social media supporting Kashmir Solidarity Day but it couldn’t immediately be ascertained what, if any, action the Indian side planned to take regarding this.
“We stand together this Kashmir Solidarity Day, to realize their right to freedom,” KFC in Pakistan had said in its message. In response, KFC India offered an apology on its social media accounts “for a post that was published on some KFC social media channels outside the country”.
KFC India added, “We honour and respect India, and remain steadfast in our commitment to serving all Indians with pride.”