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 Jan. 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.
Marriott’s recent apology shows the range of Beijing’s influence.