Mitt Romney, Marriott board member, repeatedly rattled sabers against China

Public domain image released by the U.S. Navy

In his statement of apology for the January email incident, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson stated unequivocally, “Marriott International respects and supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China.” In light of the tensions between Marriott and China, Sorenson pledged to focus on making sure Marriott’s Chinese guests feel respected.[1]

Mitt Romney has served on the Marriott board for a cumulative 17 years as of 2018, longer than any other board member who is not part of the Marriott family.[2] However, as a candidate for office, he has repeatedly engaged in saber rattling against China, supporting arm sales to Taiwan and proposing a US military build up in the Pacific to counter China.

In an era when corporations increasingly have to craft a delicate foreign policy with China, is Mitt Romney Marriott’s best ambassador?

Romney Supported Arms Sales to Taiwan, Adopted Aggressive Posture Towards China

 In 2011, the Obama administration announced a plan to upgrade Taiwan’s military jets. The Chinese government vigorously protested the arms sales.[3]

Mitt Romney lambasted the administration’s move, and stated, “President Obama’s refusal to sell Taiwan new military jets is yet another example of his weak leadership in foreign policy. Every American president for the past three decades – both Republican and Democrat – has recognized our interest in helping Taiwan defend itself. In the face of China’s intensive military buildup, the United States needs the strongest possible partnerships in Asia.”[4] John Chiang, a vice chairman of Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang, applauded Romney’s stance on arm sales to Taiwan, calling it “good news.” [5]

Romney Accused China of Theft, and of Conducting a ‘Silent’ Trade War

During the 2012 presidential election, Romney claimed that China was carrying on a trade war under the radar: “It’s a silent one and they’re winning.”[6]

Romney said, in response to a question about how he would manage China to avoid a 21st century Cold War, “They can’t hack into our computer systems and steal from our government. They can’t steal from corporations. They can’t take patents and designs, intellectual property, and– and– and– and duplicate them– and duplicate them and counterfeit them and sell them around the world.”[7]

A tenet of Romney’s trade policy during his Presidential campaign was “Confronting China.”[8] One of the items on his list of executive orders for Day One included “An Order to Sanction China for Unfair Trade Practices,” which “Directs the Department of the Treasury to list China as a currency manipulator in its biannual report and directs the Department of Commerce to assess countervailing duties on Chinese imports if China does not quickly move to float its currency.”[9]

During the 2012 election campaign, Romney tweeted that China stole U.S. intellectual property.[10]

During his 2018 Senate campaign, Romney said after President Trump proposed $100 billion in new tariffs on China: “I think the president is leading with some policies that will wake up our friends in China and they’ll recognize that business as usual is going to have to change.” “China over the years has taken advantage of the attitude in America, which is we haven’t watched very closely and they’ve been cheating.”[11]

Marriott Board Member and former US Trade Representative Susan Schwab has also cited concern about China’s trading policies

Romney is not the only member of Marriott’s board to express concern about China’s trade policy.  As US Trade Representative, Susan Schwab stated when the US requested World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement consultations with the People’s Republic of China, “We were disturbed to find that China still appears to be using WTO-illegal measures to promote its exports, ranging from textiles and refrigerators to beer and peanuts.  We are going to the WTO today because we are determined to use all resources available to fight industrial policies that aim to unfairly promote Chinese branded products at the expense of American workers, farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and intellectual property owners.”[12]

In 2008 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Schwab noted: “We have a very large and, I would argue, unsustainable trade imbalance with China. To the extent that the imbalance could be attributed to trade policy – meaning illegal barriers, unfair subsidies, violations of intellectual property rights, counterfeiting, piracy – then that’s a real problem.”[13]

Sorenson’s apology included a commitment to making sure Marriott’s Chinese guests feel respected. Why has Marriott kept a board member who has taken an aggressive public stance against a key Marriott market?


[1] “Statement from Arne Sorenson, President and CEO, Marriott International, Inc.,” Marriott News Center, 1/11/18.

[2] Form DEF-14A, filed by Marriott International, SEC, 4/4/18, p. 24.

[3] Chris Buckley, “China steps up condemnation of U.S. over Taiwan arms,” Reuters, 9/22/11.

[4] Mitt Romney, “Statement by Mitt Romney on Taiwan,” University of Santa Barbara – The American Presidency Project, 9/21/11.

[5] Tony Liao and Elizabeth Hsu, “U.S. presidential candidate supports arm sales, Taiwan Relations Act,” Focus Taiwan, 8/29/12.

[6] “Transcript And Audio: Third Presidential Debate,” NPR, 10/22/12.

[7] “CBS News/NJ debate transcript, part 1,” CBS, 11/13/11, p. 10.

[8] “Believe In America: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth,” Romney for President, 2011, p. 69.

[9] “Believe In America: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth,” Romney for President, 2011, p. 7.

[10] Mitt Romney (@MittRomney), “China steals our intellectual property and @BarackObama does nothing. We must protect American innovation. Video:,” Twitter, 10/13/11, 6.58 AM.

[11] Dennis Romboy, “Trump threat of $100 billion tariffs will ‘wake up’ China, Mitt Romney says,” Deseret News, 4/5/18.

[12] “United States Files WTO Case Against China Over Illegal Support for Chinese Famous Brands,” US Trade Representative, 12/18/08.

[13] “USTR: Trade Deficit With China ‘Unsustainable’,” Dow Jones Select, 1/24/08.