Times are tough in Hong Kong. And the ripple effect of these tough times is dramatically affecting three major companies in the United States. Starting at the beginning of this month, Apple, the NBA, and Activision Blizzard have all suffered fallout from becoming entwined with the Chinese government as democratic protests surge in Hong Kong. The world is holding its breath as China attempts to silence supporters of the mounting Hong Kong uprisings. Despite China’s restrictive laws, including gambling laws, the online casino industry has seen a surge in China. Read on to gain insight into how China is leveraging corporations to squash anti-government protests and what that means for companies you support.
What Is Going on in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong was a British colony up until 1997 when it was returned to Chinese rule. Since then it has remained a semi-autonomous city operating under the concept of “one country, two systems.” This principle treats Hong Kong with special status, allowing its citizens financial and legal independence from Chinese government and Beijing influence.
However, that independence is now being threatened by mainland China. A bill, now withdrawn, was proposed that would have allowed selective extradition of Hong Kong suspects. The bill was originally developed in response to a situation where a Hong Kong man was accused of murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan. The problem is that the bill would expose every potential suspect to China’s notoriously inhumane legal system. The Hong Kong government even tried to “fast track” this bill but was shut down by an overwhelming show of peaceful protests.
Although the bill’s development has been paused for now, demonstrations continue in protest of what many view as Beijing’s increasing influence on the Hong Kong territory.
The Influence of China
You may not realize it, but the People’s Republic of China is a significant market opportunity for the United States. Enmeshed with the profit margins of many multinational companies, China is able to leverage these relations in its favor. When word got out that Apple, NBA, and Activision Blizzard were somehow involved in supporting the Hong Kong protests, China used their repressive regime to quickly halt and influence those companies to their political discourse.
Apple Removes a Valuable and Life-Saving App
As protests were heating up in Hong Kong, Apple got caught in the crossfire. The Chinese government realized that Apple, Inc. had developed an app called HKmap.live that was enabling Hong Kong protesters to track police in their region.
Chinese paper People’s Daily stated that “…people have reason to assume that Apple is mixing business with politics, and even illegal acts. Apple has to think about the consequences of its unwise and reckless decision.”
Apple responded quickly, stating it would remove the app from its app store. The company mentioned that the app was being “used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents [in Hong Kong].”
However, the app’s developers then tweeted that they did not know of any evidence that it had been used in such a negative and harmful way. They said, “There is 0 evidence to support CSTCB’s (Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau) accusation. HKmap App never solicits, promotes, or encourages criminal activity.”
China is clearly an important market for Apple, as it accounts for its third-largest source of net sales in 2019’s June quarter. The company also has a history of complying with Chinese government influence, including abetting Chinese censorship in 2017.
NBA Tweet Spontaneously Erodes NBA and China Ties
A single tweet sent October 6, 2019, began the rapid unraveling of a tightly knit relationship between China and the NBA.
The uproar began when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey piped up with support of the Hong Kong protests. Although he quickly deleted it, he and the NBA are still regretting that single moment of unbridled free speech.
The brave but career-killing tweet included the words, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”
NBA soon put out a statement to mitigate the ire of China, mentioning that Morey had “offended so many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.” China responded with a more severe thrashing: “We are extremely disappointed by the inappropriate remarks made by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, who has undoubtedly seriously hurt the feeling of our Chinese fans.”
In this case, U.S. lawmakers stood up for Morey and those repressed in Hong Kong. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, stated that the NBA was throwing Morey “under the bus” and he chastised the organization for allowing China to “punish a U.S. citizen for free speech in order to protect NBA’s market access.”
Adam Silver, NBA commissioner, also decided to change his organization’s stance in Morey’s favor and backed his general manager, saying that he supported the statement as an expression of free speech. However, CCTV (China Central Television) fired back with criticizing the NBA and Morey that “any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.” Having the last word, CCTV also announced that would suspend all NBA preseason games to be aired in China. Tencent, NBA’s partner in China, decided to do the same.
Activision Blizzard Bans Blitzchung
The latest in this series of American companies running aground under the weight of Chinese repression include Activision Blizzard. The world’s largest and most profitable western video game development company, the Santa Monica-based entity fell under international criticism also on Sunday the 6th of October.
Professional Hearthstone player Ng Wai “blitzchung” Chung spoke up for his support of the Hong Kong liberation protests in an interview following his victory in a Hearthstone Grandmasters match. Chung donned a face mask during the interview, a reference to the anti-mask law in China, and shouted “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!” The Taiwanese Hearthstone stream quickly cut the interview and switched to commercial, but China and Blizzard had seen enough.
As punishment for offending China, a highly influential market for the gaming company, Blizzard has banned Chung from playing for 12 months and has rescinded all prize money won so far.
However, Chung does not regret what he said as he stood up for his home country. “It could cause me a lot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life,” he mentioned in a statement to InvenGlobal. But he doesn’t regret what he said and knew it was important to create awareness about the current political situation.
What Chinese Censorship Means for Online Casinos
Even though several major companies are wrapped up in mixing political issues with Chinese market profits, the online casino industry seems unaffected so far. The casino market in China holds strong, boding well for the global online casino base. All eyes are now on the protests and how they will affect the future of Hong Kong’s relation to the mainland government.