Friends of Tibet: People's Movement for an Independent Tibet

"How China Forces American Cos To Do Its Political Bidding"
(By Josh Rogin | Washington Post | January 21, 2018)

Marriott International in Chinese Grips (Jan 2018)

AS China's economic might grows, Beijing is leveraging that power to coerce foreign companies to advance its political narrative and punish them when they step out of line. The Chinese Communist Party's treatment this month of hotel giant Marriott after a minor website error takes the effort to a new and dangerous level.

In Washington, the Chinese government's overreaction to Marriott listing Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau as countries" on an emailed questionnaire has sparked alarm. Trump administration officials, lawmakers and experts said the Communist Party is escalating how far it is willing to go in enforcing strict adherence to its political positions among foreign actors.

After a Marriott Rewards employee "liked" a January 9 tweet by the "Friends of Tibet" group praising the questionnaire, Chinese authorities called in Marriott officials for questioning, shut down their Chinese website and mobile apps, and demanded an apology. The Jan. 11 apology from Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson parroted the language the Communist Party uses to describe groups that stand opposed to Chinese repression or advocate for Tibetan autonomy.

"We don't support anyone who subverts the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and we do not intend in any way to encourage or incite any such people or groups," Sorenson wrote.

Marriott has more than 300 hotels in China, its second-largest single market, after the United States. While it began disciplinary proceedings against the employee who "liked" the offending tweet, Chinese netizens scoured the Internet and found dozens more foreign corporations that had listed as countries territories that are claimed by China. Chinese Internet bots fueled the purportedly popular outrage.

Corporations including Delta Air Lines and Zara rushed out apologies of their own. But the Chinese government didn't stop there. Dozens of companies were told to scrub their websites for any related content or face severe consequences. The state-run media organ China Daily piled on with an op-ed headlined "No flouting of China's core interests will be tolerated." Chinese government officials even threatened the family of a Chinese student in Canada who responded favorably to the Friends of Tibet tweet.

By combining government power, manufactured public outrage and negative state-sponsored media coverage, the Chinese government can place massive pressure on American companies to tow the party's political line. That aggressiveness is now becoming an issue in the U.S.-China relationship.

"Everyone should be deeply concerned by the PRC's growing comprehensive campaign to exploit trade and commerce to advance its global Communist agenda," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) told me. "For decades the Communist Party has limited speech within China on topics and opinions that threaten their one-party rule, and we are now seeing this form of information warfare influence the way American companies conduct business."

For example, by parroting the Communist Party line on Tibet, Marriott helps the Chinese government whitewash its systematic and brutal repression of Tibetans. As the International Campaign for Tibet wrote in a letter to Sorenson, Marriott could have changed the emailed questionnaire without endorsing China's political position on Tibet.

"China has been continually attempting to silence international public debates on the issue of Tibet, and your statement unfortunately furthers their efforts," the group wrote, pointing out that the Chinese propaganda machine can use Marriott's statement to further undermine Tibetan human rights.

The question for Washington policymakers is: Where does this end? What if a Tibetan group wanted to hold a conference at a Marriott hotel in Washington? Would Marriott be within its rights to prevent that? Does official Washington have a role to play?

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) told me that as China becomes more brazen in its efforts to coerce or control American businesses, the United States must devise a comprehensive public-private effort to push back.

"This is only the latest in a long pattern of the Chinese government leveraging access to its marketplace to extract painful concessions from foreign businesses," he said. "Our actions, or lack thereof, can influence their behavior. To this end, we need to stand firm in defense of American interests, both security and economic."

For now, Marriott seems more concerned with how it is viewed in Beijing than in Washington. A Marriott spokeswoman said the company had no response to the concerns of lawmakers or human rights groups about its behavior.

Marriott International Asia Pacific President Craig Smith turned down an interview request from me but gave an interview to China Daily, in which he called the incident probably one of the biggest mistakes of his career. In fact, the biggest mistake that American corporations can make is allowing themselves to be used as tools by the Chinese Communist Party to advance illiberal norms. Washington is awake to the threat of Chinese economic coercion of American companies for political objectives. Now policymakers must persuade corporations to ask themselves if there is a larger interest at stake than their bottom line.

Josh Rogin

Josh Rogin is an American journalist and columnist who serves as a political analyst for Washington Post, CNN, Foreign Policy and Bloomberg View. He lives in Washington DC.

"As China Pushes Censorship on BC Students, Democracy Falls Back"
(By Terry Glavin | National Post, Canada | January 17, 2018)

Marriott International in Chinese Grips (Jan 2018)

IT'S a story about the way the Beijing regime bullies people far beyond its borders, with a few amusing twists and several disgusting instances of corporate cowardice, but it begins innocently enough, with a 28-year-old student at the University of British Columbia and a post he put up on Twitter last Wednesday.

Shawn Zhang, a Peking University alumnus who came to Canada on a student visa two years ago to study law, posted an image of the Tibetan flag below a tongue-in-cheek announcement on the Twitter account of Friends of Tibet, a solidarity group based in India that keeps an eye on China's brutal occupation of the exiled Dalai Lama's Himalayan homeland.

Zhang immediately found himself swept up a frenzy that had gripped Chinese authorities a few days earlier and had quickly escalated into a manic bonspiel of website blocking and webpage scrubbing willingly performed by several corporations in order to expunge descriptions of Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan that had hurt the ruling Communist Party's delicate feelings.

In one particularly bizarre turn of events, a panic erupted over a handful of hollow decorative boxes made to look like copies of the banned book "Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs," by Canadian human rights campaigners David Matas and David Kilgour. The fake books were found in a hotel lobby in Chongli, a ski resort northwest of Beijing.

But back to Zhang's Twitter post — the Tibetan flag, with the words "Free Tibet" above it. Within hours, public security police were putting the heat on Zhang's schoolteacher parents back home in Wuyi, in the coastal province of Zhejiang, just south of Shanghai. The cops wanted Zhang's parents to tell their son to shut the hell up.

Shawn Zhang, a Peking University alumnus who came to Canada on a student visa two years ago to study law at UBC. (Photo: John Lehmann for Postmedia News)

Shawn Zhang, a Peking University alumnus who came to Canada on a student visa two years ago to study law at UBC. (Photo: John Lehmann for Postmedia News)

"It's like they are holding my parents hostage there, so that I can't say things," Zhang told me. "It is not just Chinese, but many non-Chinese are under this censorship. People in Canada and the United States have to censor their own statements if they want to get business inside China, so they don't say anything. They surrender to censorship."

The Friends of Tibet Twitter post that Zhang decorated with an image of the Tibetan flag was a satirical congratulations to the Marriott International hotel chain "for listing #Tibet as a country along with #HongKong and #Taiwan." The post was referring to an uproar set off by a rewards program customer survey the Marriott chain had circulated that referred to Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries. Marriott complied with an order to shut down its website for a week as penance, and further agreed to kowtow with a grovelling apology, disavowing any sympathy for "separatist groups that subvert the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China."

A Marriott employee was then found to have "wrongly liked" the sarcastic Friends of Tibet congratulations, thereby "misleading the public," which prompted Marriott to apologize again, vowing to fire the worker involved. Then those fake, cardboard versions of Matas and Kilgour's Bloody Harvest — true copies of which document the Beijing regime's organ-pillaging of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience — turned up in the lobby of a Marriott property in Chongli, setting the local Public Security Bureau on high alert and causing Marriott bosses to be embarrassed again. Beijing considers the mildly religious Falun Gong movement to be a dangerously wicked cult.

While all this was going on, it came to the attention of the authorities that several other foreign companies working in China were also referring to Taiwan and Tibet as countries. Taiwan is a thriving liberal democracy, an island republic that Beijing considers a renegade, breakaway province. Tibet is an ancient monastic redoubt of an esoteric form of Buddhism that was overrun by Mao Zedong's communists in 1950. These are not "countries," Beijing insists, so over the past few days, several companies have been obliged to follow Marriott's low example and they have apologized for using the word "countries." Qantas Airlines grovelled. Delta Airlines grovelled. The Galician fashion retailer Zara grovelled.

Zhang refused to take down his tweet, and he does not expect this will result in any serious repercussions, for four reasons. The first is that he expects he will never be able to return to China, and hopes to obtain permanent resident status here in Canada after he graduates from UBC. The second reason: Twitter is banned in China, and the censors have little cause to fret about a tweet that Chinese people can't see. The third reason involves a concession of sorts that appears to have placated the police in Wuyi, arranged through an intermediary in the local propaganda bureau.

The propaganda official told Zhang's parents that everything would likely blow over if Zhang agreed to remove two posts he'd put up on Weibo, the popular Chinese social-media platform. One mentions a rumpus at a soccer match in Germany last November, where the Chinese Under-20 team suspended its tour because of the feelings-hurting presence of protesters waving Tibetan flags in the stands. The other is a photograph of a man in a grocery store holding up an English-language copy of Communist Party strongman Xi Jinping's The Governance of China in one hand, and a package of steamed pork buns in the other. Xi's nickname is Xi Baozi. Steamed Bun Xi.

Zhang's online impudence came to the attention of Wuyi's public security police thanks to an editor at Global Times, a Communist Party disinformation and propaganda organ that launched its English-language editions eight years ago with a $6.6-billion budget. An editor with the Chinese-language editions noticed the Tibetan flag Zhang posted and dashed off a snitch on Weibo that posed a series of questions about Zhang. Is he really Chinese? What will his parents think? Maybe his whole family has emigrated?

"In Canada, in general, most Chinese students are not willing to express any opinion about China, or to talk about China. Even my Taiwanese friends are worried about getting in trouble with the Chinese government — they have friends and family, and they don't want to express opinions. The situation is very disturbing," Zhang told me.

On Monday, Freedom House issued its annual report on the state of freedom in the world, and it makes for terribly grim reading. "Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets — including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law — came under attack around the world." Last year marked the 12th straight year of declines in global freedom. Declines in political rights and civil liberties were noted in 73 countries. Only 35 countries registered gains. It was only a quarter of a century ago that the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended. Police states were on the way out. Now they are resurgent. "Today, it is democracy that finds itself battered and weakened."

The United States has been withdrawing from the world for a decade. Vladimir Putin's Russia is on the rise. Steamed Bun Xi's China is on the rise. Liberal democracies are rudderless, leaderless and weak.

The situation is, as Zhang put it, very disturbing.

Terry Glavin

Terry Glavin is a Canadian author, journalist and editor for a variety of newspapers. Terry's most recent book is "Come From the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle For Peace in Afghanistan."


"Marriott In More Trouble After 'Liking' Twitter Post by Tibetan Independence Group"
(South China Morning Post | January 12, 2018)

Marriott International in Chinese Grips (Jan 2018)

BOSS of hotel group blames latest gaffe on 'individual' employee, as Chinese internet users call for boycott

US hotel giant Marriott has come under a new round of fire after one of its Twitter accounts was found to have "liked" and shared a post congratulating it over a gaffe in which it listed Chinese-claimed regions like Tibet and Hong Kong as independent countries.

Authorities in Shanghai shut down the company's Chinese website and launched an investigation after it emailed a Chinese-language questionnaire to its customers in which Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan were named as countries.

Despite issuing five public apologies since the initial outcry, a fresh controversy was sparked when Chinese internet users discovered that the company's Twitter account for its loyalty programme had "liked" and shared a post by Friends of Tibet, which campaigns for independence for the region, soon after the first apology was issued. The post congratulated the hotel group for listing Tibet as a country, along with Hong Kong and Taiwan. Internet users accused Marriott of insincerity.

"What exactly does the group want? Marriott has always been my top choice and I will let it pass if it corrects the slip of listing Tibet as a country. But liking the post of a separatist [group] shows Marriot supports separation," wrote an internet user with the name Uncle Renyi.

Other people called for a boycott of the hotel, while Chinese booking platforms, including Dianping and Meituan, withdrew Marriott properties from their systems.

The company's President and CEO Arne Sorenson described the Twitter gaffe as "misconduct by an individual member of staff". In his latest apology, made on Thursday after the "like" had been removed from the Twitter account, Sorenson said: "Marriott International respects and supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. Unfortunately, twice this week, we had incidents that suggested the opposite." China's foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Friday that foreign companies in China should respect the nation's laws and sovereignty. "I want to stress that Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet are part of China. This is an objective fact that is recognised by the international community," he said.

"We welcome foreign companies to invest in China. At the same time, foreign companies operating in China should respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, obey China's law and respect the national sentiment of Chinese people. This is the basic of any companies that want to invest in a foreign country."

The questionnaire that started the dispute was sent to members of the hotel's loyalty and rewards programme. The document was published in both English and Mandarin, but the geographical gaffe appeared only in the Chinese-language version. The questionnaire was later withdrawn. The Shanghai Cyberspace Administration on Wednesday ordered the group to shut down its Chinese website and app for a week from Thursday evening to "thoroughly clear all erroneous information".

The Shanghai Tourism Administration also summoned the "person in charge" of the group's Shanghai branch and ordered the company to severely punish the employees responsible for the incident, news portal Thepaper.cn reported.

Zhuang Pinghui

Beijing-based Zhuang Pinghui has been reporting for The South China Morning Post since 2004. She has covered a wide range of China issues including China policies, the healthcare sector, culture and society news.

"Marriott Sacks Employee Who 'Liked' Twitter Post from Tibet Independence Group"
(South China Morning Post | January 13, 2018)

Marriott International in Chinese Grips (Jan 2018)

Statement from Arne Sorenson, President and CEO, Marriott International, Inc. (January 11, 2018)

US hotel giant Marriott said it is in the process of sacking an employee for "wrongfully liking" a Twitter post by a group that supports independence for Tibet in its latest effort to calm a storm of criticism sparked by a company survey that referred to the Chinese region, and self-ruled Taiwan, as countries, Chinese state media reported. Craig Smith, president and managing director of Asia-Pacific for Marriott International, made the announcement at a meeting with the China National Tourism Administration on Friday, Xinhua reported.

Wang Xiaofeng, deputy director of the administration, said listing Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as countries was an infringement of China's territorial integrity and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.

He said the hotel group should learn from the experience and do all it can to minimise any negative impact. Smith explained that the email questionnaire that triggered the controversy had been produced by an outsourcing company, but apologised for Marriott's failure to notice the error. He added that the hotel group had suspended its dealings with the company.

As for the Marriott employee who "liked" the Twitter post by Friends of Tibet, Smith said disciplinary proceedings had been started.

"Due to the mistake of an individual employee, our official [Twitter] account wrongly liked' the tweet supporting Tibet independence and misled the public. [We] have now suspended this employee and dismissal proceedings are under way," he was quoted as saying.

Calls and emails asking Marriott for comment went unanswered on Saturday. The row with the hotel chain started on Tuesday when a Chinese-language questionnaire it emailed to its customers referred to Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as independent countries. News of the error travelled rapidly online and triggered a backlash from Chinese internet users, who called for a boycott of the company.

Marriott's troubles deepened after social media users spotted that the Twitter account for its loyalty programme had "liked" and shared the Friends of Tibet post after the company had apologised for its initial gaffe.

The hotel chain was not the only company to be accused of disrespecting China's sovereignty, however. Shanghai-based news portal Thepaper.cn reported on Saturday that on the websites of 24 airlines, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan were all listed as countries.

The 'controversial' tweet by Friends of Tibet and Marriott's 'love' for it. (January 9, 2018)

(Above) The 'controversial' tweet by Friends of Tibet and Marriott's 'love' for it. (January 9, 2018)
(Below) Marriott International apology tweet to Chinese Government. (January 10, 2018)

Marriott International apology tweet to Chinese Government. (January 10, 2018)

The Civil Aviation Administration of China on Saturday demanded that all foreign airlines with routes to China check the accuracy of their websites and apps, and rectify any errors.

On Friday, the administration summoned executives from Delta Air Lines after it was found to have listed Taiwan and Tibet as countries. The airline issued an apology, saying it had made a "grave mistake".

Similarly, international fashion brand Zara and medical equipment maker Medtronic were ordered by Shanghai's internet regulator to update their websites after they too were found to have to referred to Taiwan as a country. The two companies complied with the request and issued public apologies on their Chinese websites.


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Friends of Tibet

Friends of Tibet, PO Box 16674, Mumbai 400050, India.
Email: freedom@friendsoftibet.org Web: www.friendsoftibet.org