Importing and Exporting

Pressure mounts on businesses to stop listing Chinese territories as countries

John Nelder /

Australian small businesses are being reminded to educate themselves about key political issues in China, after Chinese authorities have ordered a number of international airlines and tourism businesses to change their communications after incorrectly labelling Chinese-claimed territories as countries.

Qantas is the latest Aussie company to change listings on its website after Taiwan and Hong Kong were listed as separate “countries” to China on its bookings website.

“Due an oversight, some Chinese territories were incorrectly listed as countries on parts of our website,” a Qantas spokesperson told the ABC.

It comes hot on the heels of similar cases, with the ABC reporting Marriott International was ordered just last week to suspend its Chinese website after sending an online customer questionnaire that listed Tibet as a country.

Beijing has strict definitions on how Chinese-claimed territories are referred to, considering Taiwan is part of China’s territory, while regions like Hong Kong are considered administrative territories of China instead of separate states.

Chinese authorities have been contacting businesses like Marriott ordering them to ensure all websites and app communications list these regions in line with Beijing’s definition of them.

Marketing specialist Ophenia Liang, director and co-founder of Digital Crew, says the pressure on these larger firms to change their communications should be a reminder to Australian businesses that there’s still a way to go when it comes to Australian companies understanding cultural issues in China.

“A lot of Australian companies don’t understand the culture, even though they’re doing business there,” she explains.

“It’s a communist country and so politically it’s a different system to Australia’s. And topics such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tibet are very sensitive topics.

“You really need to respect what the Chinese government believes if you want to do business in China,” she says.

Liang says understanding issues like this one is as important for small business exporters as it is for the big end of town.

She observes small businesses should keep in mind that even the likes of Google and Facebook have faced challenges in working with China.

“You need to learn more about the country. Doing business there is about being politically correct and making the right relations with the right business people,” she says.

“You need to meet the right distributors, contractors and suppliers in China who have a good handle on what they need to do.”

She points to social media platform WeChat as an example of a company that has achieved success in China.

“They have a very fast penetration in China and it’s partly thanks to that closer relationship.”

*This article was updated at 2pm on January 16, 2018

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John Nelder

John Nelder is a former SmartCompany journalist.

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