“The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.”
Attributed to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
MTP readers may have thought I was a bit over the top with my concern for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its relationship with the Big Tech tetrarchy. I’ve been particularly disturbed by the TikTok and Tencent back room operations, but also the CCP’s other moves in their own country against their own people–ethnic minorities, the “house Christians,” Hong Kong freedom protesters, Tibetans and especially artists and journalists. It doesn’t stop on China’s shores, of course–debt diplomacy through the 146 countries wrapped in China’s Belt and Road global investment scheme that funds projects like deep water ports in Africa and Latin America that have both civilian and military uses consistent with China’s civil-military fusion policy. Not to mention Tencent’s ubiquitous WeChat surveillance tools.
But nowhere is this unholy alliance between Big Tech and the CCP more obvious–and frankly scary– than in a recent incident involving free speech, Amazon and Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and President of the People’s Republic of China. (Bearing in mind that the Westernized title “President” in China is elected by the CCP apparatus, not by direct election–never fear.) The grand poobah under heaven is a truly scary guy. (Chairman Xi also bears a striking resemblance to Winnie the Pooh which has been another cause for censorship in the PRC–not funny.)
Amazon, you’ll remember, provides cloud computing services to the entire US intelligence community among other government contracts, and of course Jeff Bezos (aka Citizen Bezos) owns the Washington Post. (No one has ever been able to explain why this man has a security clearance).
Amazon’s tentacles into the US intelligence community adds a whole other flavor to this censorship incident involving Amazon book reviews of Xi’s book, entitled Xi Jinping: The Governance of China a main source of what’s called “Xi Jinping thought” written for the mass market. We’ll come back to that.
According to a Reuter’s Special Report:
Amazon.com Inc was marketing a collection of President Xi Jinping’s speeches and writings on its Chinese website about two years ago, when Beijing delivered an edict, according to two people familiar with the incident. The American e-commerce giant must stop allowing any customer ratings and reviews in China.
A negative review of Xi’s book prompted the demand, one of the people said. “I think the issue was anything under five stars,” the highest rating in Amazon’s five-point system, said the other person….Currently, on its Chinese site Amazon.cn, the government-published book has no customer reviews or any ratings. And the comments section is disabled.
Bloomberg’s coverage of the incident adds context.
An Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg News that it “complies with all applicable laws and regulations, wherever we operate, and China is no exception.”
The experience recounted in the report mirrors that of Apple Inc., which has grown increasingly compliant with Beijing in recent years. Apple complied with 97% of requests from the Chinese government for user device information in 2019, up significantly from 65% in 2014.
So let’s get that straight–the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party didn’t like getting less than five-star reviews on Amazon so he ordered Amazon to fix it and Amazon complied. Because the General Secretary cannot tolerate any–any–criticism from the Chinese people. Free speech in China is so constrained that you can’t even give an honest review of Xi Jinping Thought. God knows what happened to those who did on the floor of a People’s Armed Police station.
But the worst of it is that an American company owned by Mr. Democracy Dies in Darkness himself capitulated to an absurd demand from a totalitarian state that denied the freedom of expression to its own citizens. It’s important to note that the CCP edict didn’t apply to all books, just Xi Jinping’s book as far as we know—according to the New York Post, “Other books on Amazon.cn, however, appear to have reviews and ratings, The Post found. And ratings and reviews are a key part of how Amazon does business — helping to feed algorithms that lead people to other things they might be interested in buying.”
And that tells you why Mr. Bezos capitulated to Chairman Xi–he did it for the money. And the money made him rich. Or richer.
The reporting on this debacle also highlights another reason why Xi Jinping made an example out of Emperor Bezos–as Voltaire wrote of the execution of Admiral Byng in Candide, “pour encourager les autres.” If Xi can do it to he who is the richest man in the world (depending on the day of the week) and also one of the anointed emperors of Big Tech’s tetrarchy, what will he do to me? (Although Xi himself may well be the richest man in the world going away.)
As the Post writes, “Other companies, including Canada Goose, Nike, Adidas and others have been recently targeted by the Chinese government, which is taking an aggressive stance on companies that speak out about human rights and other issues in China.”
In fairness, Emperor Bezos is not anywhere near as pathetically obsequious as is Mark Zuckerberg, the King of Hoverboards and Lord of the Metaverse. At a time when Facebook was banned in China, the Huffington Post reports that Zuck confirmed once again that there’s a zucker born every minute when he asked Xi–in some version of Mandarin Chinese–to name Zuck’s unborn child.
This positively medieval kowtow was truly bizarre, even for a truly bizarre little guy like the Zuck. HuffPo reports on the exchange:
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was left disappointed when Chinese President Xi Jinping refused his request to name his unborn child at a White House dinner last week.
With Facebook still banned in China, the President remained unyielding to Zuckerberg as he turned down his request for a Chinese name for his child, the shanghaiist.com reported.
Zuckerberg was seated at the head table with United States President Barack Obama and his family, and Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the state dinner, which was attended by several figures from the US tech and media sectors. [In related news, President Obama’s flack Jay Carney is the global head of shillery for Amazon.]
According to reports, Zuckerberg spoke in Mandarin to the president, asking him whether or not he would do him and his wife the honour of giving his child an honorary Chinese name.
Xi reportedly turned down the request to put forward a name for the Facebook founder’s unborn baby girl, saying that it would be “too much responsibility.” [Although in a different translation from the trixie Mandarin, Xi said “Sit down and stop embarrassing yourself, idiot.”]
Xi is an extremely clever man and probably already knew that nothing good would come of being seated next to this Harvard riffraff, particularly when Zuck cleared his reedy little throat and tried to show off his Mandarin to the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (like Xi didn’t understand English)–assuming that the words that came out were what Zuck intended rather than “pass the salt” which is what I think happened. The thought of Zuck trying to speak Mandarin to the head mandarin is right up there with Americans speaking French by speaking English louder.
But Emperor Bezos has yet to be put through the true CCP struggle session as was TikTok owner Zhang Yiming (Mr. Zhang is CEO of TikTok’s parent company Bytedance). (Wikipedia tells us that struggle sessions were a form of public humiliation and torture used by the CCP: “The victim of a struggle session was forced to admit various crimes before a crowd of people who would verbally and physically abuse the victim until they confessed. Struggle sessions were often held at the workplace of the accused, but they were sometimes conducted in sports stadiums where large crowds would gather if the target was well-known.”)
Unlike how it handled TikTok’s Mr. Zhang, now the CCP just disappears people who don’t toe the party line (literally) like Alibaba’s Jack Ma and tennis star Peng Shuai–I leave it to you to decide whether public humiliation alone or disappearing AND public humiliation is more encouraging to the others. TikTok’s Mr. Zhang got his own version of a struggle session for doing a lot less than either Ma or Peng for a predecessor of TikTok. According to his Wikipedia page, Mr. Zhang understands what happens when you don’t toe the CCP line as he discovered with the pre-TikTok app:
ByteDance’s first app, Neihan Duanzi, was shut down in 2018 by the National Radio and Television Administration. In response, Zhang issued an apology stating that the app was “incommensurate with socialist core values“, that it had a “weak” implementation of Xi Jinping Thought, and promised that ByteDance would “further deepen cooperation” with the ruling Chinese Communist Party to better promote its policies.
Since TikTok has been allowed to flourish, one can only assume from the history that TikTok is the goldilocks version of Xi Jinping Thought and that Mr. Zhang got it just right with TikTok. We don’t know what that is but it might be worth finding out before you take the king’s yuan.
I would find it very, very hard to believe that Mr. Zhang is not a member of the Chinese Communist Party, but in any event he understands quite clearly what his role is under China’s National Intelligence Law and civilian-military fusion. Do you think that standing up to the Ministry of State Security to protect the data privacy of American teenagers is consistent with “Xi Jinping Thought”?
The fact is that with very few exceptions, the only people who have publicly confronted Xi Jinping and the CCP are Daryl Morey, Enes Kanter and the Women’s Tennis Association–not the NBA, not Emperor Bezos or his flack Jay Carney. Oh, and of course Adam Yauch (pka MCA) would have, so definitely gets a most honorable mention. (Yauch was a member of the Beastie Boys and founder of the Tibet Freedom Concerts which could do with a revival.)
Of course, all of this pales by comparison to Spotify partner Tencent’s Wechat which is heavily monitored using Tencent’s artificial intelligence tools for the benefit of the CCP, according to the Wall Street Journal:
China’s do-everything app, WeChat, has become one of the most powerful tools in Beijing’s arsenal for monitoring the public, censoring speech and punishing people who voice discontent with the government.
Authorities are increasingly using the app from Tencent Holdings Ltd. to justify arrests or issue threats, say dissidents, consumers and security researchers.
Wang Shengsheng, a labor and women’s rights lawyer, said authorities were monitoring her WeChat and text messages earlier this year so they could gather evidence to thwart her legal career.
Local public security and party discipline officials in her hometown also tracked down her father as part of their efforts to tarnish her reputation, she said.
As we start 2022, we should all think back for a moment on everyone in our business who stood for freedom. I fear that this year will be a time for choosing. Who should inspire us? Should we stand with Mr. Bezos, Jay Carney, Daniel Ek and all the Big Tech oligarchs and wannabe oligarchs who are falling over themselves to get those CCP bucks? Or should we stand with MCA and Enes Kanter and say Free Tibet? Stand with Daryl Morey and say free the Hong Kong political prisoners? Free the athletes? Free the journalists? Free the artists? Free the people of China?
Will we remember Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai and remind the world that there’s nothing more frightening to a scared little man like Xi Jinping than a girl with a book–or a book review.