Delta, Zara and Medtronic Join Marriott in Beijing's Doghouse After Location Gaffes

By Wayne Ma Features Dow Jones Newswires

More foreign companies came into Beijing's crosshairs Friday for including regions such as Tibet and Taiwan in a list of independent countries on their websites, a day after authorities ordered hotel giant Marriott International Inc. to temporarily shut its online operations in China for a similar offense.

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Delta Air Lines Inc., the Zara apparel chain and Irish medical-equipment maker Medtronic Plc all came under fire. The Civil Aviation Administration of China said it met with a Delta representative to demand a public apology and "immediate rectification" after the airline listed Tibet and Taiwan as countries on a destinations page.

In a statement on its website, the aviation regulator asked other foreign airlines to conduct an internal review of their websites and mobile apps to prevent similar incidents.

Delta posted an apology on its Chinese website. The Atlanta-based airline "recognizes the seriousness of this issue, and we took immediate steps to resolve it," a company spokeswoman said in an email. "It was an inadvertent error with no business or political intention, and we apologize deeply for the mistake."

Separately, the Shanghai branch of the Cyber Administration of China said Friday that it had ordered Spanish retail giant Inditex SA--which runs the popular Zara chain--and Medtronic to correct their websites. Both included Taiwan in a list of countries on their websites, the regulator said in a statement on an official social media account.

"Cyberspace isn't outside the law, and multinational corporations should abide by the relevant laws and regulations of the Internet in China," it added.

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Inditex and Medtronic didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Late Friday, Medtronic posted an apology on its Chinese language website, saying the language was a mistake and the website had been corrected.

China's foreign ministry also weighed in, saying foreign companies operating in the country must "respect China's sovereignty, integrity of territory, follow China's law and respect Chinese people's national feelings."

A ministry spokesman called it "the basic line for any company to invest, operate and cooperate in other countries."

Late Friday, Chinese news organizations reported that several other companies had made similar gaffes on their websites.

The government crackdown on how companies define areas of China began earlier this week after Marriott emailed a global survey to its loyalty members that included Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and Tibet in a drop-down menu list of countries. That triggered outrage on Chinese social media and prompted public scrutiny of how other companies list these locations.

Hong Kong and Macau are both part of China, but they are governed under the "one country, two systems" formula, which allows them to maintain certain measures of independence. Tibet has been under China's control for decades, but some Tibetans advocate its independence. Taiwan is a democracy that split from China nearly seven decades ago, but it is still claimed by Beijing as its territory.

Responding to Marriott's definition of these areas, the Huangpu District of Shanghai--where Marriott's business is registered--on Thursday ordered the hotel chain to fix the issue and temporarily shut its website and mobile app to Chinese residents for one week.

"Marriott International respects and supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China," Marriott chief executive Arne Sorenson said in a statement on Thursday. He added that his company would investigate how the incident had occurred, and cooperate with Chinese authorities.

Write to Wayne Ma at wayne.ma@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 12, 2018 06:31 ET (11:31 GMT)