How a US coffee shop sparked a diplomatic standoff between China and Taiwan

A bakery in California has found itself at the centre of an international storm after it welcomed the president of Taiwan with a cup of coffee and a goody bag.

The result was a major diplomatic incident as Chinese customers launched a boycott of the 85C Bakery Cafe, which rapidly disappeared from online ordering platforms on the Chinese mainland. 

The episode highlight’s Beijing’s sensitivity over an island that considers itself a sovereign state, but has never declared formal independence. 

The Taiwanese-owned chain apologised and distanced itself from the views of Tsai Ing-wen, the pro-independence leader of the island, after she dropped in on Wednesday en route to visiting allies in South America. 

Excited staff gave her a gift bag and took selfies, as images were uploaded to Facebook by part of her delegation.

They have since been removed but it was too late to prevent the diplomatic fallout. Beijing – which has been working to isolate countries that recognise Taiwan – warned it would oppose any businesses that support Taiwanese independence.

A company official in Taipei, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that it had been removed from several online platforms, telling the AFP news agency: "We have noticed the situation and we hope it won’t be permanent."

85C began in Taiwan but has since expanded to earn more than 60 percent of its revenue in China. Losing its presence on food delivery apps would be devastating.

At a glance | The One China policy

China views the island as part of its own territory, and has escalated a campaign to isolate Taiwan internationally since Ms Tsai came to power in 2016.

A growing number of international companies including airlines and hotels have been bending to pressure from Beijing to refer to Taiwan as part of China.

The election of Donald Trump has added to Chinese unease as he showed little regard for the fine lines and grey areas of the "one China policy".

Taiwan’s state-aligned Central News Agency on Thursday quoted a top official with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Long Mingbiao, as saying in Beijing that any company that expects to invest and "make money" in China must adhere to its policies.

85C’s problems began after Tsai stopped off at a Los Angeles branch of the cafe this week during an American visit in which she became the first Taiwanese leader in 15 years to give a public speech on American soil, something Beijing staunchly opposes.

Internet users in China lashed out with boycott threats and calls for the coffee chain to quit the Chinese market.