Oct 10, 2019

Corporate America's parochial morals

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There's a double standard in corporate America.

What's happening: CEOs-turned-activists are experimenting with taking bold stances on social and political issues at home — but that activity stops at the nation's borders. It certainly doesn't reach as far as China.

Why it matters: The same companies that extol high-minded principles on U.S. soil are perfectly content to abide by every censorship rule set by the Chinese Communist Party — and are even happy to travel to Riyadh to butter up the murderous Saudi royal family.

  • Apple has been a leader on immigration in the U.S., going to bat for Dreamers. But it also removed the HKmap.live app from its app store after complaints from China, citing danger to Hong Kong’s police. Its latest iOS update caused the Taiwanese flag to disappear for users in the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau, as well as anybody on the mainland.
  • Google has taken the same stance on Dreamers and on its app store. It was also caught building a censored search engine for China.
"China’s economic miracle hasn’t just failed to liberate Chinese people. It is also now routinely corrupting the rest of us outside of China."
— Farhad Manjoo writes in NYT Opinion

The list is almost endless. All three big U.S. airlines — American, United and Delta — bent to the party’s will last summer and scrubbed references to Taiwan; Marriott did likewise. Gap apologized for selling T-shirts with a map of China that didn't include Taiwan, saying its map was "incorrect." Even news organizations are treading carefully, if they're owned by Disney. Hollywood has long accepted China's censorship rules to rake in its profits.

Driving the news: American firms’ instinctive deference to Chinese autocrats was thrust into the national spotlight this week.

  • Basketball fans watched the NBA chide the Houston Rockets’ GM for tweeting — then deleting — a single image supporting Hong Kong protestors.
  • Sneakerheads watched Vans pull shoe designs that alluded to the Hong Kong movement from a global sneaker design contest.
  • Gamers watched Activision Blizzard — an American company in which Chinese tech giant Tencent has a 4.9% stake — suspend and take prize money from a Hong Kong-based player who publicly supported the protests.

One level deeper: Thermo Fisher Scientific, which is based in Massachusetts, boasts of its "strong global citizenship practices." But, it has also supplied the Chinese government with DNA sequencers that are being used to collect the DNA of Uighur ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

The bottom line: For all that CEOs increasingly talk of their "moral duty to speak up," those moral duties seem to be left on the tarmac whenever they hop on their corporate jet.

Go deeper: China's vise grip on corporate America

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Hong Kong tensions fray U.S.-China tech ties

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Recent controversies over free speech about the Hong Kong protests are highlighting the widening schism between the U.S. and China and creating a messy situation for tech companies with business ties to both countries.

Why it matters: Both the U.S. and China aim to make their tech industries less interdependent, but the deep ties are tough to sever, and doing so would disrupt business on both sides of the Pacific.

Go deeperArrowOct 11, 2019

Hong Kong frees murder suspect who triggered massive protests

Chan Tong-kai walks out of the Pik Uk Prison in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Photo: Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images

Murder suspect Chan Tong-kai, whose case prompted Hong Kong's government to introduce a bill that would've exposed Hong Kongers to extradition to mainland China, was released from prison Wednesday, the BBC reports. He was released as officials were preparing to formally withdraw the controversial bill, per AP.

Why it matters: The bill triggered months of massive demonstrations in the Chinese territory that morphed into a wider pro-democracy protest movement that's become embroiled in U.S. politics. Congress has raised China's ire by pressing ahead with a bill supporting the Hong Kong protesters, and the NBA has become involved in a standoff with Chinese officials over the movement.

Go deeperArrowOct 23, 2019

Apple takes down app used to track Hong Kong police

A protester throws a tear gas canister fired by Hong Kong police, Oct. 1. Photo: Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images

Confronted with evidence of danger to police and citizens, Apple removed an app Wednesday night that "has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong," an Apple statement said.

  • Why it matters: With pro-democracy riots in their 18th week, the app — HKmap.live — has allowed users to track police movements, then target and ambush officers. Apple determined that those uses violate both App Store policy and Hong Kong law.
  • Hong Kong authorities, who had complained about the app, said it also was being used to victimize residents in areas where police weren’t present.
Go deeperArrowOct 10, 2019