WASHINGTON, February 3, 2018: American and other Western companies involved in joint ventures with state-owned Chinese firms, have been giving internal Communist Party cells an explicit role in decision-making. It is becoming clear that foreign companies are no longer exempt from President Xi Jinping’s vision of complete control.
At the same time, China’s censorship of the internet is beginning to affect foreign companies.
Marriott censored by Chinese Authorities
Marriott, which has more than 300 hotels in China, listed Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as “countries” on an emailed questionnaire. After a Marriott employee “liked” a tweet by the Friends of Tibet group praising the questionnaire, Chinese authorities called in Marriott officials for questioning, shut down their Chinese website and mobile app, and demanded an apology.
The Jan.11 apology by Marriott CEO Arne Sorensen used the same language the Communist Party uses to describe groups opposed to Chinese oppression.
“We don’t support anyone who subverts the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and we do not intend in any way to encourage or incite any such people or groups.”
Dozens of companies were told to eliminate any related content from their websites or face severe consequences. The state-run publication China Daily carried an article with the headline, “No Flouting of China’s core interests will be tolerated.”
China Oppression in Tibet
Those concerned about Chinese oppression in Tibet were sharply critical of Marriott. The International Campaign for Tibet wrote to Marriott CEO Sorensen: “China has been continually attempting to silence international public debate on the issue of Tibet and your statement, unfortunately, furthers their efforts.”
“Everyone should be deeply concerned by the PRC’s growing comprehensive campaign to exploit trade and commerce to advance its global, Communist agenda,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). “For decades the Communist Party has limited speech within China on topics and opinions that threaten their one-party rule, and we are now seeing this form of information warfare influence the way American companies conduct business.”
Apple in China
Consider the case of Apple.
In a 2015 interview with NPR, Apple chief executive Tim Cook declared that privacy “is a fundamental human right that people have,” from a “values point of view,” not “commercial interest point of view.”
Now, it seems, profits are more important than such values.
Chen Guangcheng, author of “The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight For Justice and Freedom in China,” describes Apple’s current role in China:
“Apple is selling out. It’s not about the latest version of the iPhone, but the huge cache of personal data that will be going directly to the largest, and one of the harshest authoritarian regimes in the world…Given the Chinese government’s continuing crackdown on human rights and freedom of speech…as well as its deepening reach into Western democracies, Apple’s policies in China have far-reaching implications.”
Last summer, Apple announced that it would be partnering with Guizhou-Cloud Big Data, a state-owned company with Communist Party connections, to build Apple’s first data-storage center in China. Beginning February 28, the iCloud content of Apple ID users registered in China will be sent to and managed by Guizhou-Cloud Big Data.
According to Apple’s new terms, customers
“must understand and agree that Apple and GCBD will have access to all data that you store on this service, including the right to share, exchange and disclose all user data, including content, to and between each other under applicable law.”
Chen Guangcheng provides this assessment:
“…Apple has blithely responded that it is obeying China’s laws. Is this how American companies should respond to dictatorial demands and arbitrary, unjust legal codes? The Chinese regime makes no apologies about its human rights violations and seems not to care whom it crushes in its quest for power and control, whether it is Nobel prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died last year in Chinese custody, or the many human rights activists and lawyers who have been detained and tortured…When dealing with the Chinese regime, American companies should likewise not apologize for their commitment to the fundamental values—human rights, democracy, freedom of information, the rule of law…It’s hard to believe that Apple is caving into a regime like this. The only conclusion I am left to draw is that the company is O.K. with taking part in the suppression of freedom abroad while espousing high-minded values at home.”
Facebook in China
It has been reported that Facebook has been developing censorship software so that it can win approval to operate in China. In the United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press (CUP), the world’s oldest publishing house, announced in August that it was removing over 100 articles from its Chines website, including ones about the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
A law passed in China in February 2017 requires foreign providers of digital scholarly databases to censor their contents in China. CUP was not arraigned under this law but decided to self-censor its material.
The Economist reports that,
“CUP’s decision to kowtow set off a storm of academic protest. An online petition launched by an American academic at Peking University gathered hundreds of signatures.”
China sends the Catholic Church packing
Even the Vatican seems prepared to surrender to Chinese intimidation. At the behest of the Chinese government, the Vatican has asked two bishops in China to step down. Beijing broke off diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1951.
Since then, two parallel Catholic Churches have grown up: the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), run by state-appointed bishops, and an underground church with many bishops appointed by the Vatican. In December, a delegation from the Vatican traveled to China and met Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian, who presides over the church in Shantou. He was asked to resign in favor of a bishop appointed by the Chinese government, Huang Bingzhang, who had been excommunicated in 2011.
Another Vatican-appointed bishop, Joseph Guo Xijin in Fujian province, was also asked to resign.
Retired Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen has expressed concern about the Vatican’s attempt at rapprochement with the Communist regime: “Is it not good to try to find mutual ground to bridge the decades-old divide between the Vatican and China? But can there be anything really ‘mutual’ with a totalitarian regime? Either you surrender or you accept persecution, but remaining faithful to yourself. So, do I think the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China? Yes, definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all that they are doing…”
China’s demands of Western companies
China is becoming increasingly despotic and is making increasing demands upon those who want to do business there. Thus far, American and other Western companies are not resisting. It is reminiscent of Lenin’s declaration that the capitalists “will sell us the rope with which to hang them.”
Is profit-making the only value to Apple, Marriott, Cambridge University Press and the others? That is a question they will have to ponder.
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) says that as China becomes more demanding in its efforts to coerce and control American business, the U.S.must develop a public/private response:
“Our actions can influence their behavior. To this end, we need to stand firm in defense of American interests, both security and economic.”
The threat of Chinese economic coercion is real. Can corporations be convinced that there are moral values more important than gaining profits by collaborating with a tyrannical regime? Time will tell.