China continues to exert pressure on foreign corporations and organizations that are supporting protest demonstrations in Hong Kong. Beijing’s imposition of its political assertions, backed by the force of the country’s massive market, cannot be overlooked.
A typical example is the case in which the general manager of a popular team from the National Basketball Association in the United States tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters.
This has furiously antagonized China, developing into a political issue. The general manager had to delete the tweet and offer an explanation.
The state-run China Central Television has canceled broadcasts of NBA preseason games held in China. A succession of Chinese companies have announced their decisions to suspend tie-ups and dealings with the NBA.
In China, NBA games enjoy high popularity, in what is believed to amount to a business worth as much as $4 billion, or about ¥430 billion. The series of Chinese moves can be described as an undisguised threat.
The NBA commissioner is trying desperately to calm the situation, for example, by saying he regrets that people in China were offended by the tweet in question. In a speech on his nation’s policy toward China, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence expressed a harsh view about the matter, stating that the NBA is doing what China tells it to.
Can freedom of speech and doing business in China coexist? The NBA’s current circumstances reflect the difficult situation facing U.S. and other foreign corporations.
Amid an intensified police crackdown on demonstrators in Hong Kong, Apple Inc. has suspended the distribution of a mapping app that can track the location of police. It seems Apple had no choice but to remove the app, as the company faced Chinese media accusations that the app was protecting rioters.
Tiffany & Co., a leading U.S. jewelry retailer, has deleted an online advertising photo. This is because the photo, which depicts a female model hiding her right eye, has been widely criticized in China as expressing solidarity with a demonstrator who suffered injuries to her right eye in Hong Kong.
Foreign corporations should resolutely respond to China. Merely succumbing to unreasonable demands for fear of being shut out of the Chinese market will lead to the loss of trust among consumers outside China and prove a disadvantage in the long run.
China has become nervous about arguments made by other nations in support of the protests in Hong Kong, and this seems to indicate that Beijing is wary about the possible spread of a domestic movement that sympathizes with them.
China’s public opinion, marked by patriotic and antiforeign sentiments, is expanding through the internet. Unless the government adopts a hard-line stance, it could be seen as weak. This could give rise to the possibility that the criticism then could be directed at the government.
However, China must realize that if this goes on, foreign corporations could become less willing to launch operations and make investments in China, a development that would deal a blow to its economy. China must strive to behave in a manner commensurate with its status as the world’s second-largest economic power.