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Chinese or American? It's time for multinational companies to 'choose sides'

American or Chinese choose sides

Chinese or American? It's time for multinational companies to 'choose sides'

As tensions rise between China and the rest of the world, Western companies face increasing pressure to comply with Beijing's political demands in order to continue business in the world's second largest economy.

The latest example of Beijing's growing influence has been seen at Zoom Video Communications. This popular California-based video conferencing application is the subject of reports that it blocked a Chinese human rights group for several days after an online prayer meeting held for the Tiananmen crackdown of 1989 at the end of May.

The Chinese government has explicitly asked Zoom to terminate server accounts, as many participants were wary of China, where content related to the protests in Tiananmen Square was censored.
"Like any global company, Zoom must comply with the laws in the countries where we operate."
A company spokeswoman said in response to the reports.
But Zoom added a statement on June 11 that it went too far in freezing accounts, and planned to develop the ability to block meeting participants by country.

Some people believe that Zoom initially agreed with Chinese requests because many applications were developed in the country.

Founder and CEO Eric Yuan was born and raised in China, and has invested heavily in its operations there. Both the large market in the United States and Chinese developers are important to the success of the application.

Zoom is not the only company struggling to strike a balance between Washington and Beijing.

Last fall, US video game company Activision Blizzard banned a player from participating in an esports tournament after he expressed support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests.

British multinational HSBC Holdings recently supported Chinese plans to impose national security laws on Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the Australian podcast player's Pocket Casts has been removed from Apple's App Store in China at the request of local authorities. The move is seen as retaliation for Australia's push for an independent investigation into how coronaviruses begin and spread.

Domestic companies are also feeling pressure from Beijing. The Chinese government found 15.19 million cases of allegedly inappropriate content posted by domestic companies in May, up 22% year-on-year.

These developments have spurred harsh criticism among Chinese hawks in the United States. Vice President Mike Pence in October criticized Nike and the National Basketball Association for ignoring China's track record of human rights and freedom of speech.
"When American corporations, professional sports, professional athletes take control of censorship, it is not only wrong, but it is not American."
said Pence.

A number of companies are increasing their presence in the United States as well as in an effort to avoid such complaints. 

Video sharing app Tik Tok has hired a Disney veteran as its new CEO and is trying to become more independent of its Chinese parent company, ByteDance. Zoom has begun to invest in additional development capabilities in the United States.


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