Foreign Companies Bow to Pressure from Beijing

In January, the Chinese authorities blocked the website and app of the Marriott hotel group for one week after the company listed Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as separate ‘countries’ in an online customer survey. To make things worse, a Marriott employee used a corporate Twitter account to ‘like’ a tweet in which a pro-Tibet group expressed approval for the survey’s identification of Tibet as a country. In the midst of a public relations nightmare, Marriott profusely apologised and fired Roy Jones, 49, the hourly worker at a customer engagement centre in Omaha, Nebraska, who had liked the tweet. A similar incident involved Daimler, when its subsidiary Mercedes-Benz posted on Instagram a photo of a car along with an inspirational quote from the Dalai Lama. Delta Airlines, Qantas Airlines, clothing designer Zara, and medical instruments maker Medtronic were also involved in similar spats over the past few months. Far more consequential is the capitulation of Apple. On 28 February, the Cupertino-based company formally transferred its Chinese iCloud operations to Guizhou-Cloud Big Data, a local firm with close ties to the Chinese authorities. Apple also began hosting its iCloud encryption keys in China. Although Apple has publicly declared that it will not transfer accounts over to the new data centre unless users first agree to the updated terms of service, the move has caused widespread concerns regarding the privacy and data protection of users. Companies are not the only targets of pressure from Beijing. On 30 March, the organisers of the Man Booker International Prize admitted that, after receiving a complaint from the Chinese embassy in London, they had changed the nationality of Professor Wu Ming-yi, one of the writers included on the 2018 longlist, from ‘Taiwan’ to ‘Taiwan, China’. The organisers only backed down after a public uproar, announcing that in the future they would list the ‘country/territory’ of authors, rather than their nationalities. IF

(Sources: ChinaFile; Quartz; Reuters; SupChina; The Guardian; The Telegraph; The Verge)

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