The recent controversy about China’s public censure of the NBA has opened American eyes to the longtime practice of many U.S. companies bending over backwards to appease the Chinese government, lest they face the financial cost of losing business in overseas markets.
When the NBA apologized on Monday for the Houston Rockets’ general manager’s pro-Hong Kong tweet, and China retaliated by prohibiting broadcasts of NBA preseason games played in the country, Americans on the left and the right were united in anger that a U.S. institution would abandon principles so quickly for the sake of their wallet. But in reality, American brands and institutions have been self-censoring and groveling in apologies to China for similar offenses for years.
Here are a few examples of American companies prioritizing profits over freedom.
1. ESPN Tells Anchors Not to Discuss Hong Kong Politics
The news director at ESPN, the cable channel that is always eager to discuss politics more than sports, sent a memo to staff this week forbidding shows to discuss the politics of Hong Kong protestors when reporting on the NBA-China story. Shows were instructed to stick to the basketball-related issues instead, Deadspin reported.
An unconfirmed but possible explanation of the network’s hesitation could be fear of upsetting Tencent, the giant Chinese digital publisher that ESPN made a broadcasting deal with in 2016.
2. Vans Removes Pro-Hong Kong Shoe Design
The skateboard apparel company Vans held an online, global shoe design competition, allowing anyone to submit designs for the public to vote on. When one participant submitted a design alluding to the protests in Hong Kong, Vans removed the design from the competition.
The design featured a red bauhinia, the flower on Hong Kong’s flag, and one of the yellow umbrellas synonymous with the city’s 2014 pro-democracy protest.
“As a brand that is open to everyone, we have never taken a political position and therefore review designs to ensure they are in line with our company’s long-held values of respect and tolerance,” the brand wrote in a Facebook post.
3. Paramount Removes Taiwanese Flag From ‘Top Gun’ Movie
A trailer released in July for the new “Top Gun” movie revealed that Tom Cruise’s character, Maverick, does not have the same flag patches on his jacket from the original movie. The jacket in the new film shows that the original film’s Japanese and Taiwanese flags commemorating a tour of the USS Galveston are now missing and replaced with generic, indistinguishable flags.
There’s a new Top Gun movie coming out. And Maverick is wearing the same leather jacket – only this time it’s Communist Party of China-approved, so the Japanese and Taiwanese flag patches are gone (screenshot on right is from the new trailer)… pic.twitter.com/gUxFNFNUKX
— Mark MacKinnon (@markmackinnon) July 19, 2019
4. Nike Removes Houston Rockets Merchandise From Online Store In China
The Houston Rockets are the most popular NBA team in China, mostly thanks to the Rockets’ drafting of Chinese player Yao Ming in 2002. But after backlash against the Rockets in China escalated over General Manager Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong tweet last week, Nike decided to yank Rockets merchandise from their web store in China. The existing link to the Rockets Chinese merchandise was active a few days ago, but no longer works.
5. MGM Changes Villain In ‘Red Dawn’ From China to North Korea
In 2011, when MGM produced a remake of the 1984 film “Red Dawn,” they originally filmed the movie with invading Chinese troops. But the Chinese were outraged, and with millions of dollars at the Chinese box offices on the line, the producers decided to digitally switch out the flags and uniforms to show national symbols of North Korea instead of China.
6. Apple Removes Emoji, Protest Map, and Data Agreements
Apple’s ties with China run deep. Their questionable business decisions in China go beyond offensive emojis, but include those too. In a recent software update, Apple removed the Taiwanese flag emoji from the keyboard for users in Hong Kong and Macau.
Apple’s region lock of ROC Taiwan flag 🇹🇼 extended beyond CN devices to HK and Macau’s in the iOS/iPadOS 13.1.1 rollout. Interestingly, the new lock only affects the keyboard, and has no problem displaying and is easy to bypass by switching region. https://t.co/RVRKNQyc1l pic.twitter.com/8eQXambiAQ
— 王博源 Wang Boyuan (@thisboyuan) October 3, 2019
In another act of censorship on behalf of China, Apple blocked an app made by pro-democracy Hong Kong protestors to display a map of live protests and police activity. Developers of the app said Apple’s app store prohibited the app as promoting illegal activity, even though Waze provides similar information about law enforcement locations. After much outcry and criticism, Apple finally allowed the app on in the app store.
In 2018, Apple was criticized for moving its Chinese iCloud operations to a location in China, and hosting its encryption keys in China instead of the United States for the first time. The major concern is that the Chinese government could force Apple to give the regime access to its users’ iCloud data and encryption information.
7. 21 Brands Apologized For Disobeying The ‘One-China’ Principle
It began with an apology from brands like Gap and Coach in 2018, who made T-shirt designs with a map of China without Taiwan, but after the protests in Hong Kong broke out, users online and Chinese state media began a witch hunt. They demanded apologies from every luxury clothing brand that made “erroneous representations” of China on their website shipping options or their region or language menu options. Listing Taiwan or Hong Kong as separate countries from China is an immediate offense.
A host of hotel chains and airlines were also threatened by Chinese authorities to not list Taiwan as a country on their websites. Here are the brands that made changes or apologized for violating the “One-China” principle or damaging China’s “territorial integrity” :
Versace (Apologized for a shirt listing Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries)
Global Blue (fired staff for calling Taiwan a country)
8. Google Deletes Game About Hong Kong Protests From App Store
Developers who created a game called “The Revolution of Our Times” about protests in Hong Kong were notified that their game was suspended from the Google Play store.
“We don’t allow apps that allow reasonable sensitivity towards or capitalize on a natural disaster, atrocity, conflict, death, or other tragic event,” Google wrote. A link to the game now goes to error page in the Google Play store.
9. Video Game Company Blizzard Suspends User For Saying ‘Liberate Hong Kong’
Activision Blizzard is a publicly traded video company based in Santa Monica, California. On Tuesday, Blizzard suspended one of its professional users, Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai, and rescinded $3,000 he won in a recent tournament. His offense? Expressing support for Hong Kong protestors. They also prohibited him from playing in their esports tournaments for a year.
“Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” Chung said while wearing ski goggles and gas mask like many Hong Kong protestors.
The thread by this Twitter user explains the effect of Chinese money in American video game companies.
10. Marvel Creates White Woman Character Instead Of Tibetan Monk In ‘Doctor Strange’
When Disney-owned Marvel made the movie adaptation of the comic book, “Doctor Strange,” writers chose to make the “Ancient One” a white woman played by Tilda Swinton instead of the comic’s original Tibetan monk character.
“He originates from Tibet,” said the movie’s screenwriter Robert Cargill on a podcast. “So if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bulls—t and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.’”
11. Tiffany Takes Down Photo of Model Covering One Eye
Tiffany & Co. found itself blasted by Chinese consumers over an ad with a model wearing a Tiffany ring on her right hand as it covers her right eye. Apparently, Chinese consumers on social media thought the pose was the same one often used by protestors in Hong Kong demanding democracy.
After some of the first protestors were injured in the eye after fights with police, other protestors began covering one eye in solidarity. A Tiffany’s spokesman said the image was created several months before protests began and “in no way intended to be a political statement of any kind.”
“We regret that it may be perceived as such, and in turn have removed the image from our digital and social media channels and will discontinue its use effective immediately.”
12. Washington Post Takes Money to Print Chinese Propaganda
This isn’t an example of an apology or censorship, but of American businesses abandoning their principles in exchange for Chinese money.
As Mark Hemingway reports at The Federalist, several times a year the paper copy of The Washington Post is delivered wrapped in a section called China Watch. The fine print of the section reads, “This supplement, prepared by China Daily, People’s Republic of China, did not involve the news or editorial departments of the Washington Post.”
Ohhh boy! The same @WashingtonPost that’s lecturing about press freedom after one of their columnists was murdered by the Saudis is STILL running Chinese propaganda inserts. They’ll claim it’s just an “Advertising Supplement,” but they’d stop if they were serious. pic.twitter.com/hwWXhMYwom
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) November 29, 2018
Here’s how China Daily cover the Hong Kong protests:
The protest, organized by several Hong Kong social groups, also condemned foreign entities for misleading young people in the city.
Among these social groups was an alliance of more than 30 local political, business and legal dignitaries who support the proposed amendments to the SAR’s extradition law. They marched outside the US Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macao, calling on the US to stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs.
Chalking up the Hong Kong protests to U.S. interference and misleading young people is just one of the many lies Beijing has told the people of Hong Kong and mainland China. And this is the same variety of propaganda that the Washington Post is taking money to print and distribute in Washington, D.C.
13. Marriott Fires Employee For ‘Wrongfully Liking’ a Pro-Tibet Tweet
Marriott fired an employee who “liked” the tweet by a Friends of Tibet account.
“Due to the mistake of an individual employee, our official [Twitter] account wrongly ‘liked’ the tweet supporting Tibet independence and misled the public. [We] have now suspended this employee and dismissal proceedings are under way,” said Craig Smith, president and managing director of Asia-Pacific for Marriott International.
14. Mercedes-Benz Apologized For Quoting the Dalai Llama
Last year, Mercedes-Benz apologized for a benign Instagram post that featured a white car and a quote from the Dalai Llama. The car company faced backlash from Chinese Internet users who called the peace figure a “wolf in monk’s robes” who is seeking Tibetan independence through “spiritual terrorism.”
“Even though we deleted the related information as soon as possible, we know this has hurt the feelings of people of this country,” Mercedes said in a post on Chinese social media.
“Hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” is a phrase often used by Chinese government officials and their state-run media.