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China is stepping up its policing of international companies such as Inditex-owned Zara and Delta Air Lines and demanding they respect the government’s position on long-standing territorial disputes from Taiwan to Tibet.
The Cyber Administration Office in Shanghai on Friday said Zara listed Taiwan, an island that China claims as its own, as a separate country on its website. On the same day, China’s Civil Aviation Administration summoned executives of Delta as the carrier on its website listed Taiwan and Tibet, located in western China, as nations. The companies were asked to change the “illegal” contents.
China, emboldened by its growing economic and geopolitical influence, is showing less tolerance of what it sees as violations of its political bottom line by foreign companies. The warnings signal that the country may deploy more sticks against foreign companies that can’t risk losing business in the world’s second-biggest economy.
“The general political atmosphere these days is that you don’t stand on the wrong side of sovereignty issues in the Xi Jinping era,” said Ether Yin, partner at research firm Trivium China in Beijing. “The government responded very quickly.”
International companies operating in China should respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, state broadcaster CCTV said, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang’s comments at a regular briefing.
“Delta recognises the seriousness of this issue and we took immediate steps to resolve it,” according to a statement from the airline’s corporate office. “It was an inadvertent error with no business or political intention, and we apologise deeply for the mistake. As one of our most important markets, we are fully committed to China and to our Chinese customers.”
Inditex didn’t have an immediate comment.
Earlier this week, Shanghai government agencies summoned Marriott International’s executives in China, after the company’s Chinese-language website listed Tibet and Taiwan under “nation” and spurred intense online criticism. The company apologised on Chinese social media platforms. Regulators have started an investigation into Marriott for violating local laws on Internet security and advertising.
“The new cybersecurity law also said that you can’t do anything on the Internet to harm the sovereignty of the country,” said Yin.