Marriott website in China temporarily closed after questionnaire gaffe

Posted January 13, 2018

China has shut down the Chinese website and app of Marriott International for a week, after the firm listed Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as separate countries in its emails and app.

Delta Air Lines Inc., the Zara apparel chain and Irish medical-equipment maker Medtronic Plc all came under fire. "It was an inadvertent error with no business or political intention", the US airline said in a statement, after talks between its senior managers and officials at the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

China views with Tibet and Taiwan as integral to its territory and reacted furiously to the mistake. When they started filling in the information about the counties of their residence, they discovered that the options included Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet. China has punished Hollywood stars Richard Gere and Brad Pitt for appearing in films which may have promoted the notion of a separate Tibet. Ctrip.com International Ltd, China's largest travel website, said in October the number of tourists using the week-long national holiday to visit South Korea plunged 70 percent this year. The ruling communist party in China sees itself as the agent for righting these historical wrongs and transforming China from a victim into a global, assertive power. Marriott, which has 124 hotels in China, has apologised twice on its Weibo social media account amid calls by netizens to boycott the hotel.

Marriott apologized repeatedly but then compounded its error.

"We welcome foreign companies to invest and operate in China, but in the meantime they should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, respect our laws and regulations, as well as the feelings of the Chinese people", foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing.

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Delta's apology was similarly groveling. Officially, the US government has adhered to this policy even as President Donald Trump has argued against it.

Tibet is home to a large Buddhist population and considered by Beijing to be an autonomous region within China, but its spiritual leader the 14th Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, fled to India after a popular uprising in 1959 and established a government-in-exile in Dharamsala.

Hong Kong and Macau, which were once British and Portuguese colonies, respectively, were handed over to the Chinese government in the late 1990s, becoming special administrative regions with certain degrees of autonomy.

"In China, at the request of the government, we have taken down our Chinese websites and apps to conduct a full review and audit".

Also bolstering such an analysis is the Chinese military, which is now at its strongest ever.