China shuts Marriott website over Tibet mistake

Marriott’s Chinese website now shows a message with an apology. — Reuters picMarriott’s Chinese website now shows a message with an apology. — Reuters picSHANGHAI, Jan 12 — Authorities in China have shut down Marriott’s local website for a week after the US hotel giant mistakenly listed Chinese-claimed regions such as Tibet and Hong Kong as separate countries.

Shanghai’s cyberspace authority late yesterday 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.

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.”

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” under 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 Marriott International’s Mandarin-language questionnaire violated national cyber-security and advertising laws.

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.” — AFP