In recent months China has used its Cyber Security Law and advertising regulations to pressure various international firms into removing references to Taiwan as a country from their web sites and APPs. Now it’s taken the blackmail one step further: into our own backyard.
It’s been a dispiriting past few months, what with a number of global brands kowtowing to the authoritarian regime in Beijing and giving in to its “Orwellian nonsense” on its territorial expansionism.
Citing its domestic laws Cyber Security Law and advertising regulations, China has pressured dozens of international airlines, hotel chains and others into removing all references to Taiwan on their web sites and APPs that may suggest that the island-nation isn’t part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China.
Several companies, among them the Marriott hotel chain, Zara, Medtronic, Mercedes, Delta, Qantas, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air Canada and others, have yielded to the pressure and now list Taiwan as “Taiwan, China” or by other such formulations on their web sites. As if the humiliation weren’t enough, a number of firms have also issued “sincere apologies” for “failing” to respect China’s “territorial integrity.” With all this, the picture emerges of groups of businessmen and -women prostrating themselves before a Chinese emperor while gazing nervously, ever so often, at the status of their bank accounts.
China’s threat that it could investigate, and if necessary punish, firms under its Cyber Security Law and advertising regulations implies that companies operating in China could be breaking those laws if a customer in China accessed a web site or used an APP that “violated” China’s “territorial integrity.”
But Beijing has now upped the ante by targeting yet another company, Gap, for selling a T-shirt in some overseas markets that “failed to reflect the correct map of China.” The T-shirt in question, a photo of which was taken at a store in Canada and shared on the social media Weibo, “omitted” south Tibet, Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Let me repeat: the T-shirts were sold at an outlet store in Canada.
Turning to its own Weibo account on Monday evening, Gap wrote, “Gap Inc. respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. We’ve learned that a Gap brand T-shirt sold in some overseas markets failed to reflect the correct map of China. We sincerely apologize for this unintentional error.” The company added the products had been pulled from the Chinese market and destroyed.
What this tells us is that China’s pressure on global companies is no longer limited to their web sites and APPs, but also the very products they sell outside China. In other words, we’ve now transcended the Cyber Security Law and advertisement regulations and entered an entirely new area where China is pushing its extraterritoriality. It’s easy to see how this could quickly escalate — if we do not react and push back accordingly (see also here) — to a situation where films, books, apparel, toys, video games, maps and what not sold around the world could expose their makers to similar threats. In other words, wherever a product is sold, we could be allowing Beijing, as gross a violator of freedoms of expression as exists out there today, to decide what we print, say, write and design. At this rate, one day Beijing could threaten a firm for printing the words “democracy” on one of its products.
The absurdity of it all, and the fact that companies would give in to this kind of pressure, is Orwellian indeed. I don’t know about you, loyal reader, but my list of hotels, airlines and apparel makers whose business I will avoid at all costs is growing fast.