'Unforgivable': China Furious With NASA for Calling Taiwan a Country

NASA has hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, a government official said Wednesday, after its website included Taiwan in a list of countries—a decision state media outlets have described as "an unforgivable act."

"Taiwan," with no additional descriptors, appears on NASA's site as part of its Send Your Names to Mars project, which gives participants the opportunity to have their names carved onto microchips to be sent to the red planet during its next mission in 2026.

But users who sign up for the initiative will notice Taiwan—a democratically governed island of 23.5 million people—listed as a separate country on the website's drop-down menu.

The detail did not go unnoticed by the Chinese government, who called on NASA to "correct its mistake as soon as possible" on Wednesday.

Zhu Fengliang, spokesperson for Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office, said NASA's decision had "violated its one-China principle," which claims Taiwan as part of its territory.

NASA "also hurt the feelings of the Chinese people," Zhu said, calling on the federal agency to "respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

According to NASA's website, more than 18 million people have registered for the project, including 2.6 million in the U.S. and 4 million in China.

Hong Kong and Macau, which are listed separately as Chinese special administrative regions, saw more than 70,000 sign-ups between them, while Taiwan had over 73,000 registrations at the time of writing.

Zhu's remarks have become a trending topic on Chinese social media, where some users have said they plan to withdraw from the Mars event over the issue.

Chinese state-owned media outlets also expressed their dissatisfaction at the country classification on Wednesday.

Communist Party newspaper China Daily called NASA's decision to list Taiwan as a nation a "grave error" and "an unforgivable act."

"NASA has broken international rules and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people," it added.

Party publication People's Daily called NASA's decision "a smack right in the face of the U.S. government," citing the Biden administration's affirmation of America's one-China policy a few weeks earlier.

NASA "is obliged to honor its government's words and actions, and should show a greater understand regarding the sensitive nature of the Taiwan and Tibet questions," the paper said, also taking issue with the agency's apparent omission of Tibet from its map of China.

The U.S.' one-China policy, which differs substantively from Beijing's one-China principle, acknowledges but does not formally recognize the Chinese government's claims over the self-ruled island of Taiwan.

As a result, successive American administrations have successfully maintained informal ties with Taipei, which considers Washington its most important security partner.

The Chinese government has been known to use its one-China principle to pressure governments and businesses to list Taiwan as a province of China. However, it is unclear whether NASA had intentionally classified Taiwan as a nation or whether it was a mistake.

"The appropriate field on the submission form has been updated to say 'Location' with the drop-down menu options updated to say 'Country/Region/Territory' to better reflect the diversity of geographic location types listed," NASA told Newsweek in a statement.

This story has been updated with a statement by NASA.

NASA Perseverance rover touches down on Mars
This handout image provided by NASA shows NASA’s Perseverance rover as it touches down in the area known as Jezero crater on February 18, 2021, on the planet Mars. NASA via Getty Images