China flexed its economic might against the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) on Tuesday by suspending broadcast arrangements after the Houston Rockets general manager tweeted support for anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Beijing’s power over international companies was also highlighted back in August when Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg stepped down after one of the airline’s pilots was found to have taken part in the protests.
With this latest swipe back at corporate business, China has underlined how sensitive it is to criticism and reinforced the strict rules it wants to be followed by overseas firms wanting to earn money in the country.
Charles Arthur’s comment on this is spot on:
“So who loses out, exactly? This is shaping up to be a defining cultural clash of the next decade. If China has the money to buy everything, and if it is the largest market for lots of western things, do companies which aren’t headquartered in China have to obey its rules? Why? Do you get a sort of cultural race to the bottom of obsequiousness (apologies for the image) because you can have more money?”
And this is just about companies that want to get into the Chinese market. Just wait until a country that has cut itself off from the EU tries to get a trade deal with the PRC. Imagine the pressure the UK government will put on newspapers (and even bloggers) to censor anything that might upset Xi Jinping & Co. It’ll make the row about chlorinated chickens look like a vicarage tea party.
Footnote In case you’re wondering, kow-tow is derived from a Chinese word which means “the act of deep respect shown by prostration, that is, kneeling and bowing so low as to have one’s head touching the ground”. A servile cringe, in other words.