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China Reprimands Medtronic Over Sovereignty of Taiwan

Tracey Romero • Mon, January 29th, 2018

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Questions over the sovereignty of Taiwan became more than just a political matter recently when China demanded apologies from foreign companies for listing Taiwan and other territories as countries on their websites.

According to a Reuters report, Medtronic Plc, an internationally known medical device maker headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, was one of the companies reprimanded along with Delta Air Lines and the Inditex-owned fashion brand Zara.

This comes after a Chinese regulatory authority suspended Marriott International Inc.’s Chinese website for listing Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries in a customer questionnaire.

These moves from different regulatory authorities in the Chinese government highlight how sensitive this issue of sovereignty is, and how companies with business relationships with China need to be aware of any political implications their marketing material may have.

Hong Kong and Macau were previously European colonies before becoming a part of China and Tibet was annexed in 1950. The sovereignty of Taiwan is probably the biggest issue, because despite the island having its own democratic leader, China still considers Taiwan a part of its territories, giving the Chinese government the right to annex by force at any time.

A China-based Western businessman who declined to be named told Reuters, “It’s hard not to think that this is the shape of things to come for foreign companies, having to be even more careful about these sensitivities.”

Reuters reported that foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a regular briefing, “The companies that come to China should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, abide by China’s laws, and respect the feelings of the Chinese people. This is the minimum requirement of any company going to another country to carry out business and investment.”

For punishment for putting “Republic of China (Taiwan)” on its website, China’s internet regulator, the Shanghai Cyberspace Administration demanded that Medtronic issue a public apology which they did on social media and on their Chinese websites.

The statement said on the website said, “With regard to the page setting on the Medtronic website, Medtronic fully understands the Chinese government's position on the relevant territorial issues and sincerely apologizes for causing public misconduct. We have adjusted the settings for the relevant webpage.”

“We also hope to take this opportunity to clarify that the page in question is actually a navigation tool for the website. Due to business needs and convenience from different regions, visitors using different languages can quickly find the relevant information. So [in] this drop-down list, there are different countries, regions and business areas, there are different language versions of the site navigation. We will be more thoughtful in the future from different parts of the site user experience.”

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