It’s honestly quite rare for bipartisan action on Capitol Hill to revolve around protecting common people, but as the country’s most predatory tech companies, such as Apple and Action Blizzard, continue to signal their support for the Chinese regime, a coalition of lawmakers have decided to call out those refusing Hong Kong’s independence.
In two letters, both of which signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Reps Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Tom Malinowski (D-NHJ) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI), the government decided to “express… strong concern about Apple’s censorship of apps, including a prominent app used by protestors in Hong Kong, at the request of the Chinese government” and condemn Activision Blizzard’s punishment of Ng ‘Blitzchung’ Wai Chung, the competitive gamer who was punished by the company for simply for using “one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions.”
“The Chinese government is growing more aggressive in its attempts to dictate terms to US corporations,” the letters read. “Apple’s decision last week to accommodate the Chinese government by taking down HKMaps is deeply concerning… Because [Activison Blizzard] is such a pillar of the gaming industry, the disappointing decision could have a chilling effect on gamers who seek to use their platform to promote human rights and basic freedoms…. We urge you in the strongest terms to reverse course, to demonstrate [putting] values above market access, and to stand with the brave men and women fighting for basic rights and dignity in Hong Kong.”
It should be noted that foreign influence on the American market isn’t new. If anything, it is an intended feature of the capitalist system rather than a deficient bug. In any case, the scandals in question should concern even the staunchest of laissez-faire devotees. The first surrounding Apple’s decision to remove an app used by Hong Kong protesters to track police presence and ensure their freedom of expression. The second involving the decision to ban a professional Hearthstone player for simply voicing support for the protestors, eventually revoking his prize earnings.
The companies denied their heavy business ties played a factor in their decisions. No proof or alternative reason was provided, of course, as we’re supposed to take the companies at their word. The people aren’t so easily fooled. As reported by TechCrunch, Apple already has a history of capitulating to censorship requests by the Chinese government. In 2017, they decided to remove all virtual private network (VPN) apps from their app store in the Chinese region — the very same technology needed for Chinese citizens to circumvent the government’s so-called “Great Firewall of China”. This is in addition to over 1,100 applications removed by the request of the Chinese government, according to the organization GreatFire.
Activision Blizzard, on the other hand, are simply in bed with Chinese investors. According to The Washington Post, the company has both franchising investments in the Overwatch League esports scene, most of which based in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Chengdu, all the while Tencent, a Chinese-owned entertainment giant, owns a five-percent stake in their company stock. The ban appears to be their first offense in Chinese capitulation efforts. Nevertheless, any suppression of freedom of speech is worth the condemnation, especially a games corporation conducting itself as an effective foreign asset.
“Companies should make content moderation decisions based on the needs of their community and humanity as a whole, not based on pressure from governments, whether it’s the U.S., China or the U.K.,” argues Evan Greer, deputy director for the online freedom activist group Fight For The Future. “Blizzard is trying to hide the fact that they’re blatantly acting as censors on behalf of a government by claiming they just have a blanket ban on all ‘political’ speech. How you define what speech is ‘political’ and what speech is okay is a highly political decision in and of itself.”
While the letters are a sign of good intent, empty words mean little for those fighting against state-corporate suppression of their liberties. And these are not the last companies to continue the behavior. Just the other day, Nike made a decision to remove Houston Rockets merchandise from their stores after the Rockets’ general manager, Daryl Morey, posted a seven-word tweet supporting the Hong Kong protesters. This political theatre over human rights just begs the question of where is the actual policy? Where is the legal mandate? And how long before promises turn into lawful actions?
Last week, the Trump administration showed it’s willing to blacklist Chinese organizations with links to the government’s human rights violations against the Muslim population of Xinjiang. This decision, however, was almost a year after the U.N. report found prisoners were subjected to mandatory propaganda studies, the forced feeding and drinking of known haram substances, waterboard torture for government insubordination, as well as live organ harvesting. Are the people of Hong Kong expected to endure the same struggle for their international liberation? Or will the government adhere to its own advice of placing values over profits? This remains to be seen.