A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Friday called on foreign enterprises to respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity after Marriott International, a US -based hotel corporation, listed Chinese territories including Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Tibet as "countries" in a mail questionnaire.
Alongside Marriott, the Spanish clothing giant Zara, Delta Air Lines and Medtronic - a medical device company - were all called out by Chinese authorities for "illegal" classification of regions that Beijing claims under its authority.
Civil Aviation Administration of China said on its website it would require all foreign airlines operating routes to China to conduct comprehensive investigation of their websites, apps and customer-related information and "strictly comply with China's laws and regulations to prevent a similar thing from happening".
Marriott issued a swift apology to the Chinese government and said that the company doesn't support separatist movements.
"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.
Following a preliminary investigation, the hotel's behaviour has been found to violate both the Cyber Security Law of the People's Republic of China and the Advertising Law of the People's Republic of China.
In a customer questionnaire in Mandarin, Marriott asked members of the chain's customer rewards programme to list their country of residence, giving Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as possible options.
Hong Kong and Macau are former British and Portuguese colonies, respectively, that are now "special administrative regions" of China.
Last year, German carmaker Audi AG apologised for using a map that excluded Taiwan and parts of Tibet and the western Xinjiang region after it was heavily crticised on Chinese social media.
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 global stage.
China claims indisputable sovereignty over all four of the territories and bristles at any suggestion of independence. "We apologise for the inconvenience caused by the incident", the company said. An executive who answered the phone at Zara's Shanghai office was not able to immediately comment.
We will learn from this experience, make changes to ensure errors like this don't happen again, and continue to focus on making sure our Chinese guests feel respected and have wonderful experiences as we have the privilege of serving them in our hotels in China and around the globe.