Gao Feng | Radio Free Asia
China has reprimanded a number of multinational companies over “ignorance and lack of sensitivity” after they referred to Taiwan — a democratic island that has never known the commmunist rule but which is nonetheless claimed by Beijing — as a separate country.
Warnings were also issued to companies over inaccurate references to Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau, all of which fall within internationally recognized boundaries of the People’s Republic of China.
Last week, Beijing’s Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC) demanded that Delta Airlines immediately correct its website listing the Tibet Autonomous Region and Taiwan as “countries.”
It called for an “immediate and public apology.”
Marriott International Hotels’ website and app in China were later shut down for listing Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as “countries” in a customer questionnaire.
“Foreign companies operating in China have displayed their bias, ignorance, and lack of sensitivity when it comes to understanding China’s sovereignty,” the Global Times newspaper, which has close links to ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, said in an opinion article.
International fashion chain Zara was also reprimanded; the country menu on its website appeared to have been edited on Monday to read “mainland China” and “Taiwan.” An earlier version available on Google cache had simply read “China” and “Taiwan.”
The Global Times said China is “insist[ing] proper respect be paid to the country’s inherent and lawful territories.”
Taiwan was a Japanese colony during the 50 years prior to the end of World War II but was handed back to the nationalist Kuomintang government of the pre-communist Republic of China as part of Tokyo’s post-war reparation deal.
De facto self-rule
The KMT government relocated entirely to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists on the mainland, but Beijing still regards the island as part of Chinese territory and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence.
The island’s President Tsai Ing-wen swept to victory in 2016 on the back of broad political support for de facto self-rule, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of KMT President Chiang Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of President Lee Teng-hui in 1996.
Professor Liou To-hai, a professor of diplomacy at Taiwan’s Chengchih University, said the companies involved had no role in such political matters, however.
“They are commercial concerns, and they shouldn’t get involved with politics,” Liou said. “The information needs to be accurate enough to ensure correct logistics and convenience, but they shouldn’t have to worry about such political sensitivities.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet were all part of China.
“The companies that come to China should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, abide by China’s laws, and respect the feelings of the Chinese people,” Lu told a regular news briefing on Friday.
“This is the minimum requirement of any company going to another country to carry out business and investment,” he said.
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