Museum mulls fate of Starbucks 2007-01-18 09:12:55

Officials of the Forbidden City on Wednesday admitted that they were deliberating whether to force the Starbucks shop to close. (File photo)

Officials of the Forbidden City on Wednesday admitted that they were deliberating whether to force the Starbucks shop to close. (File photo)
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    BEIJING, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) -- The museum authorities of the Forbidden City on Wednesday admitted that they were deliberating whether to force its Starbucks branch to close.

    "The museum is working with Starbucks to find a solution by this June in response to the protests," Feng Nai'en, a museum spokesman, told Xinhua.

    "As part of an overall facelift, we are re-assigning the shops inside the palace. So far, one third of the shops, especially those located in ancient buildings, have been removed," Feng said.

    "Whether or not Starbucks remains depends on the entire design plan that will be released in the first half of the year," he added.

    The official announcement came after thousands of Chinese netizens backed a campaign by China Central Television anchorman Rui Chenggang to banish the coffee giant from the former imperial palace. Television cameras and newspaper journalists camped outside the coffee shop on Tuesday, interviewing anyone carrying a paper cup emblazoned with the famous green-white-and-black logo as the campaign gathered momentum.

    Rui wrote in his CCTV blog that the presence of Starbucks "undermined the Forbidden City's solemnity and trampled over the Chinese culture."

    Speculation has been building that Starbucks will follow a longline of disgraced eunuchs into exile from the palace as soon as its lease expires. However, Feng would not comment on the expiry date of the lease.

    "While protecting the cultural heritage, the museum also has to provide visitors with access to basic services." Feng said.

    "The 600-year-old palace receives 1.6 million foreigners every year, many of whom want to drink coffee and have a rest so that they can walk round the site longer," he said.

    He denied that the museum invited Starbucks to set up shop solely for commercial reasons.

    "The store's rent fee is very small in comparison to the museum's entrance ticket revenues of 400 million yuan (about 51 million U.S. dollars)," Feng said.

    "If we find commercial ventures have violated the principles of protecting the palace and existing in harmony with it, we will remove them without hesitation," Feng said.

    Eden Woon, vice president of Starbucks Greater China, said Starbucks was invited by museum officials in 2000 to serve visitors, and "has taken no advantage of its location to do promote the business."

    "As the contract with the museum has not expired, we have no plan to move out," he was quoted by the Beijing News as saying.

    "Starbucks appreciates the deep history and culture of the Forbidden City and has operated in a respectful manner that fits within the environment. We have provided a welcome place of rest for thousands of tourists for more than six years," he said.

    Since Starbucks opened in the ancient home of China's emperors over six years ago, there has been simmering resentment against the coffee shop and whispers of cultural imperialism.

    However, Luqiu Luwei of Phoenix TV said it was unfair to target Starbucks alone.

    "The company's opening and operation comply with the regulations and contracts. The problem lies with those in charge of the palace who should think more about how to maintain a harmonious and sublime site free from all commercial activities," she said.

    Starbucks cafe, covering more than ten square meters, is located in an old building near the towering Hall of Preserving Harmony, where emperors celebrated Chinese New Year with feasts.

    In 2000, Starbucks removed its eye-catching logo in response to visitors' protests and now the only initial indication of its existence are a handful of people sitting outside with take-away lattes.

    In 2002, Beijing authorities removed American fast food Kentucky Fried Chicken from Beihai Park, a scenic imperial garden north of the Forbidden City, after representatives to the local political advisory body raised objections. 

Editor: Nie Peng
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