Air Canada, The Gap wade into contentious war of words between China and Taiwan

Companies as diverse as The Gap and Air Canada are seemingly bending to the will of the Chinese government by treading carefully around how Taiwan is mentioned in their products and services.

Garments reportedly sold at Gap locations in Ontario had an 'incorrect' map of China on them

Air Canada's website lists some airports in Taiwan as being in China. (Louise Nastro/Reuters/file photo)

Companies as diverse as The Gap and Air Canada are seemingly bending to the will of the Chinese government by treading carefully around how Taiwan is mentioned in their products and services.

Taiwan's foreign ministry is demanding a "speedy correction" from Air Canada after the airline's recent decision to list the Taiwanese capital of Taipei as being part of China.

Despite the island claiming self-rule for more than a half century, the Chinese government considers Taiwan to be Chinese sovereign territory.

Airlines including Delta Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Korean Air Lines and Australia's Qantas Airways say they have received a request from Beijing to describe Taipei as being a Chinese destination, but have so far refused to comply with it.

As recently as last week, Air Canada's website entries for Taiwanese destinations did not mention China, according to checks made by Reuters. But something seems to have changed since then, as that is no longer the case. Airports in Taipei and elsewhere on the island are now listed as being in China as of at least Tuesday morning.

This screengrab of Air Canada's website on Tuesday shows Taipei's airport listed as a destination in China. (CBC)

Air Canada did not say whether it had received a specific request from China but spokesperson Isabelle Arthur said the carrier's "policy is to comply with all requirements in all worldwide jurisdictions to which we fly." 

Earlier this month, the United States, embroiled in a trade dispute with China, dismissed the country's efforts as a way to "impose its political views on American citizens and private companies," calling the strategy "Orwellian nonsense."

Taiwan's foreign ministry said it was "deeply concerned" about Air Canada's move to refer to Taiwan as part of China in its materials.

"Our representative office in Canada has already protested to Air Canada and expressed our government's solemn concern and has demanded a speedy correction," the ministry's statement said.

Gap kerfuffle

And U.S. clothier Gap apologized Tuesday for selling T-shirts that depict what Beijing calls an "incorrect" map of China, because it doesn't include the island of Taiwan.

The retailer faced criticism on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo recently after a photo of the garment apparently for sale in some locations in Canada was circulated widely.

The map also appeared to leave out southern Tibet and the disputed South China Sea.

"Upon the realization that one of our T-shirts sold in some overseas markets mistakenly failed to reflect the correct map of China, we urgently launched an internal investigation across the group and have decided to immediately pull back this T-shirt from all the concerned global markets," the company said in a statement.

It said the shirts had already been pulled from Chinese shelves and destroyed.

"We sincerely apologize for this unintentional error," said the company, which issued the statement through its public relations firm APCO after making a similar apology late Monday on its Weibo account.

The company promised to carry out "more rigourous reviews" to prevent similar incidents and said it respected China's "sovereignty and territorial integrity" and strictly followed the country's laws and rules.

Hotel operator Marriott and fashion brand Zara are among businesses that have apologized to China for referring to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet as countries on their websites or other promotional material.

Mercedes-Benz said sorry for quoting the Dalai Lama on social media. The Tibetan spiritual leader is reviled by Beijing.

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press