Hong Kong CNN Business —  

Fast fashion retailer Zara has denied suggestions that it closed stores in Hong Kong this week in support of pro-democracy protests but also apologized for any “misunderstanding.”

Four of the company’s 14 stores in the city opened late Monday because of transportation issues, said Inditex, the Spanish company that owns Zara. Earlier, Chinese social media users had seized on the store closures as possible evidence that the company was supporting the protests.

The stores opened later the same day that thousands of students across the city went on strike. That prompted people on Chinese social media to ask whether Zara and its staff supported the demonstrations, which have rocked Hong Kong for weeks.

The answer: No.

“Zara has never been involved in any strike, comments or activities with this subject,” the company said in a statement Monday posted on the Chinese social media website Weibo.

Students take part in a school boycott rally at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on September 2, 2019 in Hong Kong.
Anthony Kwan/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
Students take part in a school boycott rally at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on September 2, 2019 in Hong Kong.

The company added that it supports the “one country, two systems” model of governance, which affords the former British colony political and legal freedoms that are not available on the Chinese mainland. It also said in that statement that it respected “the sovereignty of the territory of the People’s Republic of China.”

That post trended on Weibo and attracted more than 16,000 comments. Some people reiterated their support for the brand, but others were still suspicious.

“But why did it just so happen to be closed on a working day?” one commenter wrote. “Are they secretly supporting the September 2 strike for Hong Kong’s independence?”

Inditex told CNN on Tuesday that “transportation difficulties” on that day were responsible for the delayed openings.

“We deeply regret any misunderstanding or possible trouble this may have caused our customers,” the company said in its statement.

The controversy surrounding Zara is the latest example of a company getting caught in the crossfire between Beijing and the protesters.

A photo of a Versace T-shirt which appears to suggest that Hong Kong is its own country
WEIBO
A photo of a Versace T-shirt which appears to suggest that Hong Kong is its own country

A Versace t-shirt caused an uproar on Weibo last month after it appeared to list Hong Kong and Macau as countries instead of cities. The company and designer Donatella Versace offered an official apology.

Luxury brands Coach and Givenchy later apologized to Chinese consumers for similar shirts deemed to undermine the country’s “One China” policy.