China has shut down Marriott’s local website and mobile phone app after the hotel chain listed Hong Kong and Tibet as countries in an online survey.
Despite a series of apologies and a bizarre clarification that it does not support ‘separatism’ Marriott has become the latest international company to be punished by Beijing for apparently disrespecting China’s sovereignty.
In a move which is clearly intended to target bookings of the US hotel giant, authorities in Shanghai on Thursday ordered Marriott to close its website and “conduct a thorough check on all contents”.
Visitors to the website currently see a message which says: “We never support any separatist organisation that harms China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We apologise profoundly for any behaviour that will cause misunderstanding about the above stance.”
Marriott sparked anger on the Chinese Internet when it sent out a questionnaire in Chinese which asked members of its customer rewards programme to list their country of residence.
The options included Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
Hong Kong and Macau, which were former British and Portuguese colonies respectively, are ruled as Special Administrative Regions (SAR) by the Beijing central government.
China considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province and not a ‘country’, while Tibet is ruled by Beijing as an autonomous region.
Marriott incensed Chinese Internet users further when 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 has been frantically seeking to limit the fall out from the gaffe, amid reports that many Chinese have been cancelling their bookings with the hotel chain.
The company has made three online apologies this week, and president and chief executive Arne Sorenson 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 Mr Sorenson.
Last year, South Korean companies were hit heavily by Chinese economic retaliation over Seoul’s deployment of a US missile shield system.
Additional reporting by Christine Wei
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