China and U.S. businesses: The big sellout
Does freedom “matter more than greed?” asked the New York Post in an editorial. Clearly not to the National Basketball Association, which this week continued its shameful efforts to mollify the Chinese government after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted (then deleted) his support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The latest supplicant is superstar LeBron James. An outspoken social activist here at home who once called President Trump a “bum,” King James thinks it was wrong and “dangerous” for the “misinformed” Morey to anger China, whose 500 million NBA fans put billions in the pockets of the league, its players, and Nike, whose sneakers James has endorsed. So this week James called on league officials and players to “be careful what we tweet, what we say, and what we do” about a ruthless authoritarian regime that surveils and represses its own people, harvests organs from political prisoners, and holds a million Muslim Uighurs in “re-education” camps. Meanwhile, at exhibition games in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., security guards confiscated “Free Hong Kong” signs and escorted protesting fans from the building, lest China be offended. These are American cities, last we checked.
It’s not just the NBA, said John Daniel Davidson in TheFederalist.com. Hollywood studios now routinely scrub films of storylines and images that China finds offensive. U.S. airlines and hotel chains edit their maps to avoid describing Taiwan as a separate country. ESPN even ordered its reporters not to criticize China while covering the Morey story. If these craven corporations will self-censor even on U.S. soil to appease China’s autocratic rulers, then Americans “owe them nothing but contempt.”
It may be too late, said Derek Thompson in TheAtlantic.com. Our two economies are so entangled at this point that the U.S. severing ties with China over its human rights abuses would “cause economic devastation to millions of workers,” not just in the U.S. and China but also around the world. Are Americans willing to give up their iPhones, TikTok, and a vast array of inexpensive consumer goods to punish China over its human rights violations?
This wasn’t supposed to happen, said Tobias Hoonhout in NationalReview.com. For decades, U.S. corporations, and presidents of both parties, assured us that the Chinese people, through a process of “economic osmosis,” would come to share American values like democracy and free speech. “In fact, the opposite has occurred.” U.S. companies are now jettisoning American values in order to chase profits in China’s massive market of 1.3 billion people. How naïve we were, said Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. Rather than surrender to our culture and our free speech, China’s government has used the internet and digital technology to build “the most technologically sophisticated repression machine the world has ever seen.” Worse, China is now exporting those “digital shackles to authoritarians the world over,” posing an existential threat to global freedom and democracy.
Still, China may have done us a favor with its heavy-handed bullying of the NBA, said Ross Douthat, also in the Times. Americans may not be nearing a totalitarian state where “wrong” views get you sent to re-education camps, but the intrusive surveillance made possible by tech giants is seriously eroding our privacy. At the same time, “woke” Twitter mobs on the Left and authoritarians on the Right are pursuing “radical ambitions” of silencing their ideological opponents. It sometimes takes an external threat like China “to remind us of who we are, and who we do not want to be.” ■