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article imageChina shuts Marriott website over Tibet error, scolds other firms

By Albee ZHANG (AFP)     Jan 12, 2018 in Internet

Authorities in China have shut down Marriott's local website for a week and scolded Delta, Zara and a US medical firm Friday for listing Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries.

Alongside Marriott, the Spanish clothing giant Zara, Delta Air Lines and Medtronic -- a medical device company -- were all called out by Chinese authorities for "illegal" classification of regions that Beijing claims under its authority.

Shanghai's cyberspace authority late Thursday ordered Marriott to close its Chinese website and app for a week and completely clear out illegal and irregular information, according to a government statement.

The same authority said in a statement Friday that the websites for Zara and Medtronic had included Taiwan and "Republic of China (Taiwan)", respectively, in their country lists.

The companies were urged to "immediately alter their illegal content and publish apologies."

Separately, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) noted in an online statement that Tibet and Taiwan were listed as countries on Delta's official website.

The airline has been instructed to "immediately rectify the situation" and "publicly apologise", CAAC said.

Marriott's Chinese website now shows a message with an apology.

"We never support any separatist organisation that damages China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," it says.

"We apologise profoundly for any behaviour that will cause misunderstanding about the above stance."

- 'Respect 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.

It triggered an uproar on Chinese social media as Tibet is an "autonomous region" firmly under Chinese control since the 1950s.

Hong Kong and Macau are former British and Portuguese colonies, respectively, that are now "special administrative regions" of China.

Taiwan has been self-ruled since splitting from the mainland after a 1949 civil war, but Beijing continues to claim sovereignty over the island.

Shanghai authorities are probing whether the gaffe in the Marriott questionnaire violated national cyber-security and advertising laws.

"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.

"I think this is the basic principle for foreign countries to conduct operations and investment in other countries."

While Marriott apologised, public anger further escalated after the official Twitter account of Marriott Rewards liked a tweet from "Friends of Tibet", an India-based group that supports Tibetan independence and congratulated the hotel chain for listing Tibet as a country.

Marriott president and chief executive Arne Sorenson soon issued a lengthy apology letter, which described the like as "careless".

"Marriott International respects and supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. Unfortunately, twice this week, we had incidents that suggested the opposite," said Sorenson.

"Upon completion of a full investigation into how both incidents happened, we will be taking the necessary disciplinary action with respect to the individuals involved, which could include termination."

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