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Marriott website in China temporarily closed after questionnaire gaffe

12 January 2018

Websites of major corporations such as Zara and Delta Air Lines listing Taiwan as a separate country were being targeted by authorities and netizens in China, reports said Friday.

The US carrier Delta Airlines has apologized for listing Taiwan and Tibet as countries on its website and for "hurting the feelings of the Chinese people", and said that the company was "thoroughly examining internal processes", adding that it would take "urgent steps to correct errors".

Visitors to Delta's complaint and comment section on its Chinese website could select Tibet and Taiwan as countries which they were from, as of Friday morning in China.

China's cyberspace administration and market supervision bureau of Huangpu district said they had conducted interviews with Marriott hotel representatives in China and ordered all related content to be removed from its website and mobile application.

From 6 p.m. on Thursday, users would not be able to access the websites of brands under the Marriott umbrella including JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, Sheraton and Renaissance through the main Marriott portal. "We absolutely do not support any separatist organizations undermining China's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

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"We apologise profoundly for any behaviour that will cause misunderstanding about the above stance".

Marriott International sparked an outrage in China when it sent out a questionnaire which asked members of its customer rewards programme to list their country of residence.

Tibet is officially an "autonomous region" but firmly under Chinese control.

Hong Kong and Macau are former European colonies that are now part of China but run largely autonomously.

Taiwan has been self-ruled since a 1949 civil war split from the mainland, but Beijing continues to claim sovereignty over the island.

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Following a preliminary investigation, the hotel's behaviour has been found to violate both the Cyber Security Law of the People's Republic of China and the Advertising Law of the People's Republic of China.

The U.S. company issued an apology earlier in the day for the gaffe, which had drawn accusations of disrespecting Chinese sovereignty and calls for a boycott by angry netizens on Weibo, China's version of Twitter. "This is the basic of any companies that want to invest in a foreign country".

Marriott president and chief executive Arne Sorenson soon issued a lengthy apology letter, which described the like as "careless".

China has numerous territorial disputes with its neighbors and it has increasingly laid claim to jurisdiction over most of the South China Sea, which has meant disagreements with Vietnam, The Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

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Marriott website in China temporarily closed after questionnaire gaffe