American corporations must stop selling themselves to China’s brutal regime
When Vladimir Lenin was asked, according to legend, how he would “hang up all capitalists” in view of the shortage of rope in the young Soviet Union, he replied “don’t worry, comrade, the capitalists will sell us the rope”.
Though likely apocryphal, the quote captures the spirit of what Lenin more precisely – and just as coldly – wrote in a manuscript note:
“You [the capitalists] Granting credits to help us support the Communist Party in their countries and, by supplying materials and technical equipment we lack, restore our military industries that are necessary for our future attacks on our suppliers. In other words, they will work to prepare for their own suicide. “
Fortunately, the Soviets were largely prevented from realizing Lenin’s vision through the American Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls list (COCOM), which banned the sale of advanced computers and other high-priority items to the USSR, often against the will of overzealous American corporations . But the People’s Republic of China, by contrast, not only has a much greater ability to purchase similar instruments of our destruction; it has also discovered a monetary lever that Lenin could only dream of: international censorship.
Not surprisingly, Chinese direct investment in foreign media companies has proven effective in silencing criticism of the PRC. But Chinese officials themselves may be surprised at how much control the lure of their markets’ profits has given them over what big foreign companies say.
When Sony and Disney produced “Seven Years in Tibet” and “Kundun”, respectively, in 1997, depicting the brutalization of Tibet by the PRC, the PRC excluded these studios from showing films in China. The following year, both studios sent high-level delegations to bow to Chinese officials.
Disney boss Michael Eisner declared “Kundun” to be “a stupid mistake”. He added, “The good news is that nobody saw it. We should prevent something like this, which offends our friends, from happening in the future.” Sony sent an entire delegation to similarly apologize. “Hollywood’s creep worked,” reported the Wall Street Journal, and “Sony and Disney films were soon flowing back into China.”
Hollywood has not had a major China-critical production since.
But the PRC mind controllers are determined to smash even smaller nuisances, like Sino-Australian ex-New York Times reporter Vicky Xu, who was attacked by China’s Wumaos Army, or hired internet trolls who slandered her on Twitter with vicious allegations of sexual deviance and substance abuse.
Hers is a classic example of the PRC’s hypocrisy: while the Chinese Communist Party closes the Hong Kong internet freedom of expression, it uses freedom of expression overseas to maliciously attack anti-party line views.
Another target is the American vlogger Matt Tye, whose sharp criticism of the WHO in China we have already mentioned. Like Xu and many others, Tye receives a constant barrage of online harassment, most recently in the form of English-language CCP shills attempting to portray him as a white racist. But Tye has also encountered CCP censorship in the United States: while the popularity of these shills is artificially inflated by bots and wumao, China’s wumao has also found ways to dampen Tye’s videos on YouTube – and curb their views and revenue.
More worryingly, Tye’s sponsored advertisements – the agreements made directly with American corporations that are his main source of income – have abruptly declined for fear of potential business prospects with China. Tye rightly points out that the “cowardice” of many of these companies could recreate the Hollywood effect in public discourse and stifle all voices critical of the government with only one weak sponsorship left.
Tye’s experience shows how granular and far-reaching the CCP’s influence on American corporations already is. The advertising difficulties of individual YouTubers may seem like a trifle, but the deliberate distortion of the American understanding of a bellicose authoritarian superpower is no small matter.
On the contrary, the ability of the PRC to decisively influence even the smallest advertising decisions across America, even with companies that do not do business directly with China, should in a world where our films, schools and publishers bow to Chinese tax payments, Pressure give cause for great concern.
Our country is largely desensitized to its largest conglomerates, who habitually sell to a brutal dictatorship. American companies that want to demonstrate their independence from PRC pressures – or their willingness to face it – can do so by supporting the many Chinese commentators who are being silenced and harassed by the CCP.
Even Lenin was not cynical enough to believe that democracies would sell their freedom of expression. It is high time that companies with integrity stand up.
Paul Wolfowitz, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was Deputy Secretary of State for East Asia (1982-86), US Ambassador to Indonesia (1986-89), and Deputy Secretary of Defense (2001-05). Bill Drexel, a research fellow at AEI, studied Chinese state surveillance and censorship at Tsinghua University.