Marriott hotel chief apologises to Beijing for calling Tibet a country

14 January, 2018, 00:05 | Author: Lester Mason
  • Marriott Draws Fire Over Geography Slip-Up

Cyberspace regulators in China issued sharp criticism to Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) and other companies today for referring to Taiwan as an independent country on their websites, classifying it as "illegal content".

Aside from closing down the website, the Shanghai Cyberspace Administration said in statement that it was shutting the Marriott's mobile phone application, in a move that would also disrupt bookings.

Despite a series of apologies and a weird clarification that it does not support "separatism" Marriott has become the latest global company to be punished by Beijing for apparently disrespecting China's sovereignty.

In a customer questionnaire in Mandarin, Marriott asked members of the chain's customer rewards programme to list their country of residence, giving Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as possible options.

Delta Air Lines Inc., the Zara apparel chain and Irish medical-equipment maker Medtronic Plc all came under fire.

Taiwan, although self-ruled, is considered an integral part of China.

China, emboldened by its growing economic and geopolitical influence, is showing less tolerance of what it sees as violations of its political bottom line by foreign companies.

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According to reports from local media and internet users, Spanish clothes company Zara's website (zara.cn) and US medical technology firm Medtronic's website (medtronic.com) had categorized Chinese territories as countries.

Tibet is officially an "autonomous region" but firmly under Chinese control.

Though Marriott made several posts on Weibo to apologize, it is not clear whether Marriott actively monitors mentions on Weibo or whether they might have been able to get ahead of the negative backlash in real-time. Both believe that the government of the other is illegitimate, as there is only one China (mainland and Taiwan), with each of them representing the legitimate administration.

Marriott has over 100 hotels in the country under different brands.

Marriott has now begun an investigation.

Hong Kong and Macau are former European colonies that have retained high degrees of autonomy since their return to China as special administrative regions in the late 1990s.

"Unfortunately, twice this week, we had incidents that suggested the opposite", said Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International in a statement.

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