Authorities in Shanghai are investigating hotel giant Marriott after it triggered an online uproar with a customer questionnaire that listed Chinese-claimed regions such as Tibet and Hong Kong as separate countries. City officials said in a notice dated late Wednesday that they were probing whether the gaffe in Marriott International’s Mandarin-language questionnaire violated national cyber-security and advertising laws. Marriott has issued an apology and amended the online questionnaire, which 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. China claims indisputable sovereignty over all four of the territories and bristles at any suggestion of independence. Anger over Marriott’s mistake snowballed after it was posted on the Communist Youth League’s official account on Weibo, China’s popular Twitter-like platform. Thousands of outraged comments and reposts ensued, many urging a Marriott boycott. “Boycott Marriott! Get out of China!” one Weibo user said. Another said that while Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong are sometimes listed separately, “it is the first time to list Tibet as such. This is too much”. Tibet is officially an “autonomous region” but firmly under Chinese control.
Hong Kong and Macau became British and Portuguese territories, respectively, in the age of European colonialism but are now “special administrative regions” under China. Taiwan has been self-ruled since a 1949 civil war split from the mainland, but Beijing continues to claim sovereignty over the island. Shanghai authorities said they met with Marriott’s management earlier this week to demand that the offending materials be corrected and that the company do its best to rectify the “bad influence” from the affair. Marriott has said it was “deeply sorry” and wished to “reiterate our usual stand in respecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Marriott said it had fixed the errors and would “actively cooperate” with the government investigation. China has meted out punishment for similar cases before. Shanghai authorities said in November they had fined a local advertising agency one million yuan ($150,000) over a Chinese map that appeared in an advertisement it produced, saying the map was inaccurate and “damaged the country’s dignity”. Authorities did not specify what was wrong with the map.