In an international controversy, at least 3 American firms are appeasing China this week while trying to figure out a balancing act that placates Western consumers. The scandals were sparked by a simple tweet expressing support for the pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters from the general manager of the NBA team Houston Rockets.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver apologized for offending China, and then retracted the apology after heavy criticism from U.S. lawmakers of both parties. But after China suspended its NBA preseason broadcasts and condemned Silver's apology retraction, the NBA continues to act in a manner that suggests it will keep appeasing China. First, it kicked out fans wearing pro-Hong Kong clothing at American games and confiscated their signs urging people to search for the Uyghurs, an ethnic minority that China is forcing into internment camps. The league even told players to avoid commenting on political issues and forbid reporters from asking players political questions. The move drips with hypocrisy, as athletes in the past have advocated for transgender rights and police reform.
Activision Blizzard also found itself embroiled in the China controversy. The gaming firm suspended Hearthstone player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai for a full year after he donned a mask and proclaimed the slogan of Hong Kong protesters in a post-match interview. In addition to suspending Blitzchung, Blizzard also confiscated his prize money and removed him from the upcoming Grandmasters event. The firm even fired two commentators from the event and apologized to its Chinese partners. But the global gamer community went up in arms, with many canceling their subscriptions and vowing to boycott Blizzard. Senators slammed the firm's punishing move. A group of employees staged a walkout to protest Blizzard's treatment of Blitzchung. Activists planned to disrupt Blizzcon. In the face of mounting pressure, Blizzard finally cut his suspension to six months and returned his prize money.
Tech giant Apple is also deeply involved, with the self-proclaimed privacy and human rights champion quietly caving to Chinese pressure. First, Apple removed the Quartz app from the Chinese app store and Taiwan flag emoji from its Hong Kong users' phones. Then China demanded Apple take down HKMap Live, an app that allowed protesters to track police activity, from its app store. Apple obliged and issued a statement saying it pulled the app because it threatened police and public safety, despite little evidence for the claim. Finally, Apple preemptively engaged in content censorship, telling its Apple TV+ showrunners to avoid showing China negatively. Unfortunately, unlike the NBA and Apple, no powerful group of lawmakers or consumers has called on the firm to reverse its pro-China actions.
The 3 controversies suggest that U.S. firms are appeasing China while attempting to placate the West. They are arguably choosing money over values. The Chinese market is so vast in terms of raw consumer numbers, and its investment funds have pumped capital and seeped into nearly every corner of American media and entertainment. If a U.S. firm risks angering China, then it risks losing a large part of its revenue and profit figures. Therefore, the idea of engagement started by President Richard Nixon seems to be failing. China is indeed becoming more integrated into the global economy through trade and discourse. But instead of learning Western democracy and civil liberties, China is exporting authoritarian notions and whitewashing of human rights abuses.
- 1. https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/nba-china-issue-latest-news-resulting-from-daryl-moreys-hong-kong-tweet-what-it-means-for-the-league/
- 2. https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/11/20910692/blizzard-hearthstone-ban-reduce-hong-kong-protests-blitzchung-prize-money
- 3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/zakdoffman/2019/10/12/apples-china-nightmare-just-got-much-worse/#5b4083375023
- 4. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/10/11/20910039/american-brands-hong-kong-china-conflict