The plight of the over seven million inhabitants of Hong Kong, who are being deprived of their freedom by the authoritarian and increasingly militaristic government of China, should receive the same level of sympathy and support exhibited worldwide for other significant human rights concerns, such as that which was provided to fight apartheid in South Africa.
That this has not occurred is not an accident. Unlike Russia, or its predecessor the Soviet Union, China has been able to combine its more sophisticated understanding of public relations and utilize its financial leverage to quell criticism.
It is a remarkable political accomplishment. Beijing operates hundreds of concentration camps in which political dissidents and religious minorities are incarcerated, tortured and killed. Its military openly intimidates almost all of its neighbors, and invades sovereign territory. The government engages in massive espionage, steals intellectual property, and adheres to massive unfair trade practices. It produces the world’s highest CO2 emissions. It brutally repressed a pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square, and may be on the verge of doing the same in Hong Kong.
Beijing has made international censorship a top priority, and key social media outlets have been complicit. In a vitally important investigative journalism piece, an Intercept article by Ryan Gallagher recently reported that,
“Google is planning to launch a censored version of its search engine in China that will blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest… The project – code-named Dragonfly – has been underway since spring of [2017.]"
China’s leadership is not content to merely eliminate free speech and political dissent within its own borders. The New York Times reported in 2018 that,
“Within its digital borders, China has long censored what its people read and say online. Now, it is increasingly going beyond its own online realms to police what people and companies are saying about it all over the world.”
Those who criticize China quickly discover the power of its influence, and its vast tentacles in far-flung organizations. The sports blog SBNATION provides one example:
“A tweet by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting protestors in Hong Kong is setting off a chain reaction of fallout between the NBA and China. [...] NBA commissioner Adam Silver has already issued two statements clarifying the league’s position on Morey’s tweet. Despite the tweet being almost immediately deleted, Silver stated he “regrets” upsetting people in China but wouldn’t limit free speech for league employees.
"The response has not appeased business leaders and the state-run broadcast networks previously set to air the games. What originally started as a backlash focused on the Rockets now threatens to derail the NBA’s strong relationship in China. The Lakers-Nets game went on with no media availability.”
What about the supposedly “woke” college campuses? China has instituted “Confucius Institutes” to deflect potential criticism from academia. Politico reports that,
“More than a decade after they were created,Confucius Institutes have sprouted up at more than 500 college campuses worldwide, with more than 100 of them in the United States…Overseen by a branch of the Chinese Ministry of Education known colloquially as Hanban, the institutes are part of a broader propaganda initiative that the Chinese government is pumping an estimated $10 billion into annually…”
Beijing has not ignored the cultural scene, either. Hollywood moguls, never known for their moral standards, will now pander even further to Chinese censors for two main reasons. First, they do not wish to offend a potential big-bucks investor in their industry. Chinese companies have invested $4.5 billion in Hollywood assets. Second, the lure of selling tickets to China’s billion-plus citizens inhibits them from producing films that Beijing censors will keep out of the world’s most populous nation. Business Insider notes that,
“Hollywood studio productions will… increasingly be made by China—or rather, by Chinese companies investing in Hollywood.”
Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Goverrnment.