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China shuts down Marriott website, probes it for Tibet gaffe despite apologizing

Marriott, (Photo courtesy: AFP)
Marriott, (Photo courtesy: AFP)

(TibetanReview.net, Jan12, 2018) – Authorities in Shanghai have on Jan 11 shut down Marriott International Inc’s (MAR.O) Chinese website for a week, punishing the world’s biggest hotel chain for listing Tibet, as well as Taiwan, as countries in a customer questionnaire. Despite having apologised and taking corrective action, the global US hospitality service company has been placed under a probe to determine whether its inclusion of Tibet as a country in an internet customer questioner violated China’s cybersecurity and advertising laws.

The online Mandarin-language questionnaire had 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. The computer generated listing was entirely inadvertent.

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, noted an AFP report Jan 11. It added that thousands of outraged comments and reposts ensued, many urging a Marriott boycott.

One Weibo social media platform user was cited as saying that while Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong were sometimes listed separately, “it is the first time to list Tibet as such. This is too much”.

Shanghai authorities were cited as saying they had met Marriott’s management earlier in the 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 was cited as saying it was “deeply sorry” and wished to “reiterate our usual stand in respecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. It has spoken of having fixed the errors while working to “actively cooperate” with the government investigation.

In a similar case before, Shanghai authorities had said in Nov 2017 that they had fined a local advertising agency one million yuan (US$153,000) over a Chinese map that appeared in an advertisement it produced, saying the map was inaccurate and “damaged the country’s dignity”.

Meanwhile, aside from closing down the website, the Shanghai Cyberspace Administration said in statement that it was shutting the Marriott’s mobile phone application, in a move that would also disrupt bookings, reported Reuters Jan 11.

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