Mapping out Your Maps: Gaps over Territorial and Maritime Views

Dr. Jean-Marc F. Blanchard's picture

Recently, GAP, an American apparel firm, caught fire in China because one of its t-shirts selling in Canada had a map of China that did not include Taiwan or South Tibet. This incident follows several other ones involving well-known multinational companies (MNCs) such as Germany’s Audi and Daimler Benz, the US’s Marriott International, Delta and United Airlines, and Medtronix, and Spain’s Zara.

Specifically, Chinese netizens and the Chinese government lambasted these businesses because content in and/or the design of their websites, conference presentations, and other materials seemed to suggest Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Tibet might be separate countries or, in Daimler’s case, embraced someone Beijing deems a separatist. Given the importance of China to these and other companies, it is not surprisingly they quickly adjusted their websites and materials, issued apologies, and engaged in other gestures of obeisance. And no doubt others have joined the parade without our knowledge. The failure of prominent MNCs to give such issues due attention is somewhat shocking. Regardless, it is important to note that corporate deference has been facilitated by the lack of any meaningful backlash from other relevant actors. This could happen, though, if China demanded its preferred mapping regarding the disputed Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands, the South China Sea, or Tibet. Have corporate executives and Boards of Directors pondered if they are prepared to abandon Japan? Alienate all Southeast Asia countries having territorial and maritime issues with China? Incur the wrath of India? Probably not. In any event, some hard thought will have to be given to mapping out strategies, reconceptualizing the design of goods, websites, services, and so on, and calculating tradeoffs. Doing this sooner rather than later is critical for MNCs to minimize the prospects of their being left in the dust or cast into the sea over contested spaces.