The furor raised by the apology letter from the CEO of the hotel chain giant Marriott has once again triggered the ever-stopping discussion on conducting business in China. After a questionnaire was sent out in Mandarin to its loyalty program members, mainland Chinese members found themselves in disbelief when a whopping 5 options was provided when asking which country does its members are residing in? In addition to China,Hong Kong,Macau and Taiwan, Tibet was also listed alongside the country list where in theory, the Chinese government has always stated the historical fact that Tibet is an integral part of China, so is Taiwan. What seems so outward right to many of its members in mainland China, might just happened to be one of the most controversial and sensitive topic in geographic politics.
There is little to no need to talk about politics here, in simpler terms, the rest of the world have opposite opinions towards many territory disputes related to China, but for Marriott, such deliberate action on stating Tibet as a country in Mandarin and send it to its Chinese members is provoking the remaining dignity of so-called “face” in Chinese social norms. Although it remain unclear whether the action was done by a upper management team or bottom down staffs. A small work around would be to list your countries category into destinations or using a subcategory under China. These has been what hundreds of thousands of international corporations done to keep their penetration into the sweet sweet China market. In contrary, not only didn’t Marriott fix up the situation right away, their twitter handle happened to liked a tweet by a free-Tibet activist account thanking them for recognition. As a result, Marriott’s websites(including SPG) and apps are all shut down for a week by the order of the The Shanghai arm of the Cyberspace Administration of China.
What has happened to Marriott is not a rare case, however we have to reflect on the fact, a boycott led by millions of Chinese netizens will not only harm Marriott’s brand, but the thousands of local staffs who are working under their name, while in reality, Marriott today only owns around 40 hotels worldwide, the 100+ properties in China are largely owned by real estate developers, so in the end, a handful staff working for their royalty programs and those who report directly to Marriott would still be sitting in their offices sipping coffee and chitchat to pass the day by.
The heat didn’t just cool down from there, a new list of foreign corporations doing business has been gathered by the share “wisdom and power” of Chinese netizens, namebly Delta and Qantas, was also caught up in the nationalistic activism, like Marriott, Delta also listed Taiwan and Tibet as a country, alongside China, Hong Kong and Macau.
No one is the beneficiary here, until this moment, all of the aforementioned companies have issued public apologies and fixed their website according to the administration’s rules. Again, I am not trying to discuss politics here due to how complicated and contentious the situation is.
As an international corporation, the fundamental guideline to follow is the law at the country you are operating, especially in a marketplace like China, they must know that what has done couldn’t benefit them in any positive way.