'They are not being nice to the Dalai Lama'

It was an off-the-cuff remark on the red carpet at the Cannes film festival. But on Thursday it led to the embarrassment of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, an apology by one of the world’s great luxury brands, and the undiluted anger of a global superpower.

The next time Sharon Stone is asked her views on current affairs, it is unlikely she will repeat the mistake she made over the earthquake in China. The face of Christian Dior suggested the country’s devastating earthquake was the result of bad karma caused by Beijing’s treatment of her “good friend” the Dalai Lama.

“I have been very concerned about how we should deal with the Olympics because they are not being nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a good friend of mine,” she said.
“And then all this earthquake and all this stuff happened I thought, is that karma?”

In an attempt to avoid a meltdown in its Chinese business and following widespread revulsion over her comments, the luxury goods retailer moved swiftly to drop Stone, who models its range, from its advertising campaign in China.

The anger was intense. Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, on Thursday described Stone as the “public enemy of all mankind”. Her films, which include Basic Instinct, Casino and The Quick and the Dead, have been banned in cinemas in China and Hong Kong.

“We hope that as an actress she should contribute to our two peoples’ mutual trust, understanding and friendship,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said.

Dior also issued an apology by Stone (50), who said she was deeply sorry for causing the Chinese people distress as they struggle to recover from the May 12 disaster. “Due to my inappropriate words and acts during the interview, I feel deeply sorry and sad about hurting Chinese people,” she said. The actress added that she was willing to take part in the relief effort and to “wholly devote myself to helping affected Chinese people”.

A spokesperson at Dior’s Shanghai office said: “We just want our customers and fans to realise that her personal comments are not related to the company, and of course we don’t support any type of commentary that will hurt the feelings of our customers.”

Some of Stone’s harshest critics were to be found among Chinese bloggers. “Don’t give any attention to this old lady—don’t watch her movies, don’t buy the products she represents,” said one. Another called her a “dirty swine”.

Stone, clearly taken aback by the furious response, has since noted that she had worked for charities around the world for the past 20 years. Last year, while attending the Shanghai movie festival, she said, she had felt “deeply the Chinese people’s wisdom and hospitality”. But the backpeddling may have come too late, with even fellow supporters of the Dalai Lama saying Stone had gone too far.

Philippa Carrick, chief executive of the Tibet Society in London, said Stone’s comments were ridiculous, and oversimplified the concept of karma.

“None of us fully understand the concept of karma unless we are wise, so to use it in this context is ill-advised,” she said. “The concept of karma is that you are sowing seeds that come back on yourself, but for Sharon Stone to suggest the earthquake was caused by bad karma is unthinking. Things don’t work in such straight lines and she seems to have neglected that Tibetans suffered in the quake.”

Dhammadassin, a senior dharma [Buddhist law] teacher at the London Buddhist centre, said: “There are ideas of collective karma, but I find it difficult to see how it could be proved at that scale.”

In April, French retailer Carrefour faced protests as rumours circulated that it supported the Dalai Lama. Disturbances at the Olympic torch relay in Paris sparked calls for a boycott of the company. Tempers were only calmed when Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, dispatched a top aide to Beijing.

In 2005, Japanese businesses in China were singled out for boycott after Japan sought to introduce schoolbooks that played down Japanese militarism in the second world war.

“Companies are trying to increase their Chinese market share,” said Graham Hales, of the Interbrand consulting firm in London. “They’re not going to want to offend anyone.” - guardian.co.uk Â

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