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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese budget carrier Spring Airlines has canceled an offer of free tickets to Japan, bowing to pressure after bloggers slammed the company online and labeled it a traitor, in a sign of heightened nationalist sentiment amid a territorial dispute.
The country's largest private low-cost carrier withdrew the offer of free round-trip tickets between Shanghai's Pudong airport and Japan's Saga prefecture, a rural area in southern Japan near the city of Fukuoka, just 2-1/2 days after it was launched.
"We canceled the offer last night after taking into consideration the feeling of netizens," airline spokesman Zhang Wuan told Reuters.
The promotion, which would have seen customers pay just tax and surcharges totaling about 1,030 yuan ($160), aimed to boost demand after a dispute over islands in the East China Sea cut Spring Airlines' passenger volume by half on some of its Japan routes.
One blogger accused the airline of being a traitor, hurting the feelings of Chinese and damaging the country's image. "Chinese nationals should boycott Spring Airlines," the blogger said.
Spring Airlines also withdrew an offer of free tickets between Shanghai and Japan's Kagawa that was launched on Tuesday, the spokesman said.
Asked whether Spring Airlines would cut capacity to Japan further as the islands row had forced the budget carrier and some other Chinese rivals to cut the number of flights to Japan, the spokesman said: "We canceled the offer first and now don't want to speak too much to trigger controversy." ($1 = 6.2503 Chinese yuan)
Reporting by Alison Leung; Editing by Chris Gallagher