Earlier this week, Shanghai government agencies summoned Marriott International’s executives in China, after the company’s Chinese-language website listed Tibet and Taiwan under “nation” and spurred intense online criticism.
China is stepping up its policing of worldwide companies such as Inditex SA-owned Zara and Delta Air Lines Inc and demanding they respect the government’s position on long-standing territorial disputes from Taiwan to Tibet.
“It was an inadvertent error with no business or political intention, and we apologize deeply for the mistake”, the company said in a statement to CNNMoney.
It added that on Thursday, Shanghai’s cyberspace administration ordered Marriott to shut down its Chinese website and app for a week.
The companies were urged to “immediately alter their illegal content and publish apologies”. “We recognize the severity of the situation and sincerely apologise”, the statement said.
The regulator ordered Marriott’s website and booking applications to close for a week.
“We never support any separatist organisation that damages China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, it says. “Unfortunately, twice this week, we had incidents that suggested the opposite”.
Marriott sent out a mail questionnaire to its Chinese members Tuesday morning, which listed Tibet, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan as options under the question “Which country are you from?” Hong Kong and Macau became British and Portuguese territories, respectively, in the age of European colonialism but are now “special administrative regions” under China. The administration said tourist accommodation is a core factor of a country’s tourism industry.
Despite issuing five public apologies since the initial outcry, a fresh controversy was sparked when Chinese internet users discovered that the company’s Twitter account for its loyalty programme had “liked” and shared a post by Friends of Tibet, which campaigns for independence for the region, soon after the first apology was issued.
Taiwan has been self-ruled since splitting from the mainland after a 1949 civil war, but Beijing continues to claim sovereignty over the island.
“Marriott International respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China”.
“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”.
In a statement, Sorenson continued: “As a company, we take very seriously the privilege and opportunity we have to serve guests in countries around the world – and particularly in China, a market we have been in for over 30 years”.