To the challenges facing KFC and Apple in China, add a surprise backlash from Beijing's spat with the Philippines over the South China Sea. Nationalists are protesting at KFC outlets and calling for a boycott, spurred by government accusations that Washington encouraged Manila to oppose Beijing's claims to vast tracts of ocean.
Photos circulated online show young Chinese wearing scarves with patriotic slogans smashing Apple iPhones in protest. State media have fanned public anger with a torrent of criticism of last week's ruling by a UN tribunal, which found no legal basis for Beijing's claim to most of the South China Sea.
"The Chinese public, as optimistic and positive as they are, are deeply patriotic and nationalistic, especially people who are younger," said James Roy of the research firm China Market Research Group.
KFC and Apple "are just very closely associated with the United States, and you are seeing people picking the closest symbol they can think of to demonstrate against." The protests are a reminder of the political risks for global brands in China, where they regularly become targets of nationalist sentiment, often stirred up by official media. In 2012, sales of Japanese autos plunged when Tokyo and Beijing were in a dispute over control of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
The Chinese leadership has tried to tamp down this week's protests with demands in state media to leave foreign companies and their customers alone. "This is not the right way to express patriotism," said the government's Xinhua News Agency. The China Daily newspaper called the protests "jingoism that does a disservice to the spirit of devotion to the nation."
Some KFC customers have responded by posting photos of themselves online with a bucket of chicken, axes or other weapons and signs reading, "patriotic hooligans, try harassing me and I'll take you out."
Phone calls to spokespeople for KFC in China and written messages sent through the company website weren't answered. A man in the eastern city of Yangzhou, northwest of Shanghai, said he watched a protest in the morning after seeing a note online appealing to people to take part. He said it also told protesters to boycott Japanese and Korean goods.