As Beijing sanctioned the National Basketball Association this week for a pro-Hong Kong message delivered by one of its team leaders, other American companies scrambled to avoid fallout of their own, the Washington Post reported.
Tiffany & Co., which relies on the Chinese market for double-digit revenue growth, scrapped a global advertising image that some in China perceived as supporting Hong Kong protesters, even though the company said the image was taken weeks before the demonstrations began.
Blizzard Entertainment, the Irvine, Calif.-based video-game giant, suspended a professional player for one year for reportedly shouting “Liberate Hong Kong!” during an interview.
China has long been sensitive about its image at home, controlling what it allows Western businesses and its own citizens to say or do there. Now, however, with Hong Kong in its fourth month of street protests, China is increasingly imposing the same strictures on what is said about it beyond its borders, the Post writes.
“This is core to Xi Jinping’s narrative about recapturing China’s greatness,” said Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to the Chinese president.
“Whenever they see evidence that the international community is supporting Hong Kong or Taiwan as independent entities, they try to find ways to bring dissenting voices in line,” she said. “They don’t tolerate dissent on this topic inside China, and increasingly they are not tolerating dissent on these issues outside China.”
The tension underscores how reliant vast sectors of the U.S. economy are on China, not just on the nation’s consumers but on the blessing of Beijing’s leaders. And it raises questions not just about how American companies will shape their products and services to cater to the Chinese market, but also about how flexible they will be on traditional American values of free speech and democracy, the Post adds.