Nike, the US sportswear maker, is reported to have pulled from sale a limited-edition line of shoes in China after consumers there objected to its Japanese shoe designer expressing online support for protests in Hong Kong.

According to the Financial Times, Chinese retailers cancelled sales of the sports shoes created by Undercover, the studio of Japanese designer Jun Takahashi, after it posted a picture of protesters with the slogan “no extradition to China” on its Instagram account earlier this month.

This referred to ongoing mass protests in the former British colony against a proposed law that would have allowed the extradition of suspects to mainland China. Although the proposal has been suspended, demonstrators still want the bill scrapped altogether.

The post, which has since been deleted, sparked a backlash from Instagram users in China, while negative comments also appeared on other social media sites, such as Weibo. Instagram is blocked in China, but it can be accessed with virtual private network (VSN) software.

Chinese retailer YYSports, which is owned by Pou Sheng International, Nike’s strategic partner in China, is also reported to have said in a social media post that Nike had sent it an “urgent message”, resulting in cancellation of the shoe’s release that was slated for June 14.

Meanwhile, online retailer Douniu said it had removed all products related to the Undercover brand, while other Chinese retailers cancelled the line without explanation.

“Based on feedback from Chinese consumers, we have withdrawn from China a small number of products that were designed by a collaborator,” Nike said in a statement.

While the incident is unlikely to have a significant impact on the company’s revenues in China, the Financial Times observed that the controversy highlights the difficulties international brands face when having to adjust to political sensitivities in China.

German carmaker Mercedes-Benz also got into trouble last year over an Instagram post which showed one of its luxury cars alongside a quote from the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual Tibetan leader regarded by Beijing as a dangerous separatist.

And US clothing retailer Gap was also forced to apologise last year after selling T-shirts with a map of China that did not include Taiwan, southern Tibet and the disputed South China Sea.

Sourced from Financial Times, CAN, Reuters, AP News; additional content by WARC staff