Playing By China’s Rules

Written by Christopher Putvinski and originally published on The Outsider.  Edited and co-authored by Christopher Nash.


In terms of censorship, there is no place like China; in fact, no place even in the same realm as China.

When traveling to China, one is immediately confronted with the government’s authoritarian reach. The plane lands and you turn on your phone, only to find that your favorite websites–Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, even Google–are inaccessible, blocked by China’s so-called “Great Firewall.”  China has even blacklisted many terms from search engines such as “democracy”, “dictatorship”, “communist”, “evil”, and related terms.  We can all see the correlation of these terms with the communist nation of China; need I say any more?


Courtesy of The Economist. Self-explanatory.

So it comes as little surprise that Apple has reportedly disabled its news app in the country to keep from upsetting the Chinese government. Online censorship is the mainstay of the government’s effort to control the flow of information to its citizens. And China is, after all, the region responsible for Apple’s second largest stream of revenue. Apple decided to play it safe and err on the side of government appeasement rather than consumer satisfaction but incensing the government, to completely cut off its news app as it works to purge information the Chinese government may find insensitive.

Of course, Apple isn’t the only company playing the appeasement game. Businesses today cannot afford to not tap the Chinese market. And with the Chinese, you need to play by their rules. This was thrown into sharp relief over the summer, when reports emerged that China had distributed a document asking US tech companies to pledge that they would agree to “two key principles” related to maintaining national security, on top of six promises, among them storing data in China and leaving it and products open to Chinese surveillance.

For US and even European companies, China has offered more disappointments than gratifications. Keeping on the topic of technology, cyber security and espionage are becoming growing, implacable issues for many outsider companies trying to operate in China. It has gotten to the point where not too long ago the US was threatening China with sanctions. And last month, President Xi of China met in Seattle with a number of US technology executives, in which he vowed his country would cease corporate espionage and cyber theft. My guess is that little believed him, since, with the Chinese, actions always speak louder than words.

And then there is just simply trying to do business in the country. Last month China published a document announcing reforms to how it intervenes in state-owned enterprises (SOEs). There was hope for the plan–perhaps a more hands-off approach was in store? Yet these hopes were quickly dashed when the plan was released. Far from remaining hands off, the government decided to stick with the status quo of preferential treatment for its state-owned companies–bad news for any company that is not Chinese.

It cannot be argued that China is to be trusted in its promises and pronouncements to discontinue its cyber espionage on US companies, or its preferential treatment for its SOEs. This is, after all, the world’s oldest civilization, and a country whose nationalism sees itself as the center of the universe.

It’s been almost 70 years since China has emerged from what it calls the century of humiliation. It is now on a path to reclaim its spot as the top dog on the world stage. And it is making sure that no one gets in its way.




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