Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

 

NASA Is the Latest to Offend China by Calling Taiwan a Country

Bloomberg News
  • Communist Party news site describes episode as ‘unforgivable’
  • Foreign firms like airlines have gotten in trouble in the past

NASA has become the latest foreign organization to upset China by referring to Taiwan as a country, the latest in a string of quarrels the Asian nation has waded into over wording it deems politically sensitive.

The U.S. space agency has hurt the feelings of the Asian country’s 1.4 billion people with the reference on its website, said Zhu Fenglian, a spokeswoman for the Beijing office that handles matters related to the democratically ruled island.

The space agency needs to “correct its mistake as soon as possible,” Zhu said at a regular press briefing Wednesday in Beijing. A commentary published by People.cn on Monday described the incident as “unforgivable.” The website is run by the People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece.

NASA lets net users sign up to send their name to Mars on a future flight. Taiwan appears as an option on a “country” drop-down box, as does the Vatican. It’s unclear how long Taiwan has been called a country on the website, but more than 18 million people have registered.

An emailed request for comment sent to NASA outside regular business hours was not immediately answered.

Foreign companies often get in trouble with the Chinese government over political issues. Chinese net users last week called for a boycott of Hennes & Mauritz AB over an undated statement on its website saying it won’t use cotton from the Xinjiang region.

The retailer was also criticized by the Communist Youth League and the People’s Liberation Army. Western governments including the U.S. accuse China of sending as many as 1 million Muslim Uyghurs to work camps in Xinjiang. Beijing denies the allegations, saying it is fighting religious extremism and providing jobs.

In 2018, U.S. airlines stopped referring to Taiwan as a country after pressure from the Chinese government.

China’s Communist Party views Taiwan as its territory, which must be taken by force if necessary. The government in Taipei rejects Beijing’s claim, insisting Taiwan is already a de facto sovereign nation.

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