Nasa is the latest to draw China's ire by calling Taiwan a country

Nasa has hurt the feelings of China's 1.4 billion people with the reference on its website.
Nasa has hurt the feelings of China's 1.4 billion people with the reference on its website.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Nasa has become the latest foreign organisation 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 United States space agency has hurt the feelings of the Asian country's 1.4 billion people with the reference on its website, said Ms Zhu Fenglian, a spokesman 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", Ms Zhu said at a regular press briefing on Wednesday (March 31) 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 is unclear how long Taiwan has been called a country on the website, but more than 18 million people have registered.

An e-mailed 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 criticised by the Communist Youth League and the People's Liberation Army.

Western governments including the US accuse China of sending as many as one million Muslim Uighurs to work camps in Xinjiang.

Beijing denies the allegations, saying it is fighting religious extremism and providing jobs.

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

China's Communist Party views Taiwan as a wayward province that must be taken by force if necessary.

The government in Taipei rejects Beijing's claim, insisting Taiwan is already a de facto sovereign nation.