China has banned the British computer game Football Manager 2005, saying it violated Chinese law by referring to Taiwan, Hong Kong and other regions claimed by China as separate countries.
A notice on the Culture Ministry's Web site said the game contained "content harmful to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity ... [that] seriously violates Chinese law and has been strongly protested by our nation's gamers."
The game, launched Nov. 5, is not sold in China and has no Chinese-language version.
But government departments have been ordered to search for the game online and in computer software markets, cyber cafes and newsstands that sell pirated software and to seize any copies found, the notice said.
Outlets providing the game can be fined up to 30,000 yuan (US$3,600) and have their licenses pulled. Internet service providers that fail to prevent subscribers from downloading the game can be fined up to 15,000 yuan (US$1,800) and lose their licenses.
There was no immediate comment from game developers, Sports Interactive Ltd. or publisher Sega Europe, which claims the game as its biggest-ever seller.
The ban underscores China's extreme sensitivity over any perceived slight to its national prestige amid rising global economic and political clout.
China claims self-governing Taiwan and recovered Hong Kong from Britain in 1997.
The Culture Ministry said the game also contained references to Tibet, which Chinese troops occupied in 1951, and Macau, a former Portuguese colony handed over to China in 1999.
Foreign companies making everything from cellphones to packaged food have run into similar trouble for allegedly violating Chinese sensitivities.
China this week banned a Nike television commercial showing LeBron James, the reigning NBA rookie of the year, in a mock video game setting battling and defeating a kung fu master, as well as two women in traditional Chinese attire and a pair of dragons.
The State Administration for Radio, Film and Television said the advertisement violated national dignity and was disrespectful and blasphemous toward Chinese culture.
It did not say why the advertisement was considered offensive. But communist officials are sensitive about the use of Chinese cultural symbols by Westerners and might have been especially angered that the Nike advertisement showed a foreigner winning the fight.
The Nike ad has also been pulled from window displays in Nike's Chinese outlets.