It’s one thing to import electronics, clothing, and other consumer goods from China. But we are also importing Chinese authoritarianism. That’s the price for access to China’s 1.4 billion potential consumers, a price many U.S. corporations are quite willing for Americans to pay.
Americans have always supported freedom and democracy around the globe, if only in words. But the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Hong Kong protesting for rights Americans take for granted are getting little help or moral support from the rest of the world. This is because the Chinese Communists will not permit it.
Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Such an outrageous sentiment enraged the Chinese government, which expressed its indignation by cancelling broadcasts of Rocket games and threatening the NBA’s lucrative deals with China. Nike pulled its Rockets merchandise from China. Other companies, frightened by China’s reaction, cancelled $25 million worth of sponsorship deals for Rockets games. The NBA fell all over itself in making abject apologies for Morey’s tweet. Though NBA commissioner Adam Silver eventually acknowledged Morey’s freedom of speech, he too, along with players and hangers-on, such as ESPN, kow-towed to their Chinese masters. (Read this detailed account.)
Worse, though, was NBA enforcing China’s free-speech restrictions on American citizens! At a Philadelphia 76ers exhibition game against a Chinese team, a fan was ejected for wearing a “Free Hong Kong” T-shirt. Security also squelched protesters at a Washington Wizards game.
But what happened with the NBA is only emblematic of a larger syndrome in American businesses. In a Federalist article entitled Trade With China Has Turned Into Giving Away Our Values For Their Money, Kyle Sammin details how “Importing Chinese goods and Chinese profits means importing the values of the Chinese Communist Party. On free speech, consumer protections, workers’ rights, the environment, and more, our open trade with China has rendered our laws null and replaced them with the dictates of a hostile, totalitarian state.”Though Facebook and Twitter, to their credit, have resisted China’s attempts to prevent their use by Hong Kong protesters, other big tech companies keep siding with the Communists. Google at first refused to censor its search results, but after the Communists built a “Great Fire Wall of China” to prevent its citizens from accessing the free flow of information, Google developed a search engine called “Dragonfly” that would comply. Apple, eager to protect its Chinese manufacturing base as well as its Chinese markets, pulled an app at the Communist’s request that Hong Kong protesters were using to track police movements. Apple has also pulled the flag of the Republic of China–a.k.a., Taiwan–from its iPhone emojis, and has put restrictions on products from iTunes, iBooks, and Apple TV+ that criticize China. And other tech companies are doing the same sorts of things.
Hollywood opposes any censorship on the part of the American government. But it acquiesces to censorship from the Chinese government! According to a report on the issue, “U.S. filmmakers self-censor scenes, dialogue, images, and themes they fear will jeopardize their film’s chance of receiving Chinese approval for import.”
China influences Academia by funding “Confucius Institutes” on some 400 college and university campuses throughout the world, with about 100 in the United States. These come with content restrictions, censorship of academic conferences, and silencing of critics.
There are many other American businesses and enterprises that have made themselves subject to China. For more details, read Jim Geraghty’s We’re Not Exporting Our Values to China–We’re Importing Theirs.
That title recalls the naive claims made a few decades ago that our economic dealings with authoritarian countries would be harbingers of freedom and democracy. Free markets, we were told, would promote free societies. Well, not necessarily. And, evidently, sometimes the influence goes the other way.
If only we could slap tariffs on tyranny.
Photo: Police attack Hong Kong protesters, by Studio Incendo [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)] via Wikimedia Commons