BEIJING - Spanish apparel giant Zara, seeking to avoid becoming embroiled in controversy over protests in Hong Kong, issued a statement on Chinese social media late on Monday expressing support for China's sovereignty over the Asian financial hub.
Zara made its statement after the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao asked in a headline whether the closure of four of the company's Hong Kong shops on Monday was in support of a strike call by students, a question that was seized upon by mainland social media users.
Zara, owned by Inditex, said it supported the "one country, two systems" policy under which China rules Hong Kong, and had not supported strikes.
It was not immediately clear why Zara closed the stores on Monday, as reported by Ming Pao, although shops in Hong Kong have often shut their doors when protests are taking place nearby.
Zara did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
The brand became a top trending topic on China's Weibo social media platform, with one hashtag "Zara statement" viewed more than 170 million times as of Tuesday morning.
On Monday, thousands of Hong Kong university and school students boycotted class and rallied peacefully for democracy, following a weekend marred by some of the worst violence since unrest escalated more than three months ago.
Foreign brands are under increasing pressure from Chinese consumers and regulators to fall into line on contentious issues around Chinese sovereignty and its territorial claims.
Last month, a number of Chinese brand ambassadors of fashion labels from Coach to Givenchy severed ties with the companies over products which they said violated China's sovereignty by identifying Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries.
Last year, Zara was criticized on Chinese social media for placing Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China sees as a break-away province, in a pull-down list of countries on its Chinese website.