U.S. hotel giant Marriott has come under a new round of fire after one of its Twitter accounts was found to have "liked" and shared a post congratulating it over a gaffe in which it listed Chinese-claimed regions like Tibet and Hong Kong as independent countries.
The apparent intensification of efforts to police how foreign businesses refer to Chinese-claimed territories - even if only in pull-down menus - underscores just how sensitive the issue of sovereignty has become in a China that is increasingly emboldened on the worldwide stage.
"It's hard not to think that this is the shape of things to come for foreign companies, having to be even more careful about these sensitivities".
Hong Kong and Macau are former European colonies that have retained high degrees of autonomy since their return to China as special administrative regions in the late 1990s. It operates well over 100 locations in the Greater China region.
China views with Tibet and Taiwan as integral to its territory and reacted furiously to the mistake. The ruling Communist Party considers the self-ruled, democratic island a wayward province and refuses to renounce the threat of force to bring it into the fold.
China's Cyberspace Administration, the internet watchdog, said the hotelier had "seriously violated national laws and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" after a customer survey listed Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries.
China also reportedly shut down Marriott's mobile app, but the BBC said it was back working after the apology was issued.
"We are deeply sorry for the questionnaire", said Marriott Rewards, which is responsible for managing Marriott International's membership correspondence, in a statement on its official Weibo account later the same day.
Marriott sent out a mail questionnaire to its Chinese members Tuesday morning, which listed Tibet, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan as options under the question "Which country are you from?"
Taiwan, which calls itself the Republic of China, and goes under various names in worldwide organizations, has been self-ruled since 1949 in defiance of the Communist regime in the PRC.
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. US -based Delta, Spanish clothing chain Zara and USA medical device maker Medtronic were targeted, the Liberty Times reported. Taiwan, although self-ruled, is considered an integral part of China.
Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Tibet are all parts of China, which is not only a basic fact, but also the consensus of the global community, spokesperson Lu Kang said at a daily press briefing.
"Marriott International respects China's sovereignty and territorial integrity", it said. "This is the minimum requirement of any company going to another country to carry out business and investment", he said.