[OPINION] An 'Abominable' problem: When Chinese money takes over company values
Dreamworks recently released Abominable, which is a movie about a Chinese girl who meets a mythical yeti and travels with it to the Himalayas. A scene shows a map of Asia with the 9-dash line – China's highly controversial claim to virtually the entire West Philippine Sea.
Activision Blizzard, the studio behind the highly acclaimed Call of Duty and World of Warcraft series, stripped an esports champion of his prize money after he voiced his support for the Hong Kong protesters during a post-match interview. They eventually loosened the sanctions.
The NBA, around a week ago, said it regrets that Chinese fans were upset after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the protesters in Hong Kong.
China is the most populous country and the world's second biggest economy. Its resurgence from an impoverished nation to one of the richest in the past 3 decades is nothing short of a miracle. As it lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, its government learned that it can use their purchasing power to twist the arm of anyone not falling in line with its vision of the world.
We saw this a few years back when China enforced a stricter standard against bananas from the Philippines after the West Philippine Sea issue started to simmer. It affected around 20,000 plantation workers. The NBA, similarly, is poised to lose millions of dollars' worth of revenue from the canceled deals, sponsorships, and broadcasts in China after the Morey fiasco. China's state-run CCTV led the pack in rejecting the NBA, and entertainment giant Tencent shortly followed suit.
To avoid a similar fate, companies all over the world try to appease Chinese authorities so they can continue tapping this lucrative market.
Apple recently flip-flopped and pulled out – again – an app that tracks police movements in Hong Kong, obviously afraid of sanctions from Beijing in an already hypercompetitive consumer electronics market.
Back at home, our very own flag carrier Philippine Airlines and budget carrier Cebu Pacific show Taipei, Taiwan, as part of China after Beijing ordered international airlines to show the island-nation as its territory in 2018 or risk losing access. (They can always say that Taiwan is officially called the Republic of China, but that would fool no one.)
Even governments' hands are not clean. To set up formal diplomatic and economic ties with China, each would have to agree to the One-China policy and renounce recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign nation. The Philippines recently accepted Chinese passports bearing the map of the West Philippine Sea as part of their territory, a clear about-face from its previous policy, no doubt to attract more mainland tourist money.
Hollywood movie makers are known to incorporate Chinese artists and cultural icons to increase their chance of being allowed to be part of the approximately 40 foreign movies that can be shown in China every year. Movies that show the true nature of China's autocratic government are certain to be banned, which would cost a production house millions of dollars in the future.
This is the sad state of affairs that we see around the world today. When company executives relinquish patriotism and values, their country stands to lose. To turn a blind eye to the abuses of the Chinese government against its very own people and others to earn more money is greediness. Companies should uphold their love of democracy and liberalism over the love of money. When corporations become partners of democracy, they take part in promoting it to the people who need them the most.
Luckily, we have seen some fighting back. Google decided not to release a special version of its search engine that complies with the Great Firewall of China, and so is Facebook. Comedy Central's South Park, in its 300th episode, has one character who did not mince his words: "Fuck the Chinese government." This came after the show had been banned by Beijing for speaking out against companies colluding with it.
Meanwhile, ordinary citizens can pressure companies to build a stronger backbone. By boycotting products from conniving corporations and speaking out on social media, corporations will surely think twice before coddling autocrats. Using existing employee organizations to send a unified message to executives is another. I do not buy stocks of companies that do not share my values.
Democracy around the world is already under attack. Now more than ever, everyone needs to protect our hard-earned liberty to avoid sliding back to the days when most of us lived under a dictatorship powered by a backward and unsustainable economic system. China knows how to use money to cast dark magic and we should not allow any corporation – who lives off our money, by the way – to be their warlocks.
As South Park character Stan Marsh said, "Anyone who betrays their ideals just to make money in China isn't worth a lick of spit." – Rappler.com
Rob Julian M. Maghinang is a proud Iskolar ng Bayan from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Manila. His opinions are his alone and does not represent any of the organizations he is affiliated with.