Respecting China's core interests is the bottom line for companies to operate in the country.
As an international hotel chain with operations around the world, it is hard to understand why Marriott should have listed Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Tibet as separate countries in its recent questionnaire email to elite members.
Territorial integrity is China's core interests. Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Tibet are all indispensable parts of China. These facts are beyond doubt and challenge.
"We welcome foreign enterprises to do business in China. Meanwhile, they should respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, abide by Chinese law, and respect the Chinese peoples' feelings, which are the foundation for any corporation to do business in any country," said Lu Kang, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in answering a question on the Marriott incident at a news briefing held in Beijing Friday.
No matter what caused the mistake, Marriott has undoubtedly violated Chinese law. According to Chinese advertisement and internet security laws, Marriott may face a fine of up to 1 million yuan (around 154,000 U.S. dollars) or have its business license revoked in serious cases.
Authorities in Shanghai have started to investigate the company and ordered all related content to be removed from its website and mobile app. On Thursday, they ordered Marriott to shut down its Chinese website and app for a week and thoroughly investigate the incident.
The public relations consequences of the incident will be hard to ignore for an international brand with a heavy presence in the country.
Although Marriott has apologized for the mistake and expressed its respect for China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, what is more important is what the company will do in the future to prevent such mistakes from happening again.
To show its sincerity and corporate responsibility, Marriott should, at the very least, immediately look into the matter and deliver a clear and convincing answer to the public.
For an enterprise to do business in China, it is both smart and responsible to first study the laws of the country and abide by them in daily practice.
All businesses should operate according to law. Marriott is no exception.