While most pf the world has leveraged new Internet technology as a means of expression and a road to improved livelihood, China has turned it into a weapon of the state and mind control. Sadly enough, companies are following the party line.
Weixin, a WhatsApp knockoff, for example, has done a marvelous job of censorship which has made the communist party proud. The good news is that Weixin will be debuting an IPO in the USA and you too can funnel your cash into a communist party muzzle on free speech.
To say China censors the net is like saying they censor religion; it is the definition of an understatement. In China one cannot access: Youtube, Facebook, most of Bloomberg and the New York Times and many other benign sources. Half the time Google is blocked and Gmail is spotty at best.
If I search for anything related to “free Tibet”, I am warned that my query is unacceptable. Surfing for information on human rights is also off limits, as well as terms regarding an independent Taiwan. Should I try to find out how much money the families of Xi Jinping, Wen Jiabao or Hu Jintao has, I will be warned once more that this information is not available to me.
Beijing ensures that unfiltered access to the Internet is impossible without a virtual private network (VPN) and even then service is hit or miss. The communist party makes it clear that they will choose which online resources you have access to.
The Communist Party Library
Consider this analogy in order to understand what the Chinese Internet is like. Imagine going into the biggest library in the world. All around are books, magazines, videos and songs from every country in the world. Almost everything you could ever want to know is found in this incredible 100-story place.
Now, imagine a not so nice looking guy in a Mao jacket and sporting a billy club meets you at the entrance of the library. While the citizens of the rest of the world whiz through open doors and read as they wish, this guard guides you to one little stuffy section of the library with poor ventilation and no windows. Instead of perusing the carols as you wish, you must ask this warden/helper for assistance.
As you pad along, he raps the billy club against his palm reminding you of his presence and to hurry up. Perhaps you want to find magazines about current events and your eyes scan the shelves looking to find titles you are familiar with. Unfortunately, there are none. The guard shepherds you to a pitiful little bookshelf which has a litany of communist feel good rags such as the Global Times, China Daily and such.
Frustrated with the dearth of material, you ask to see The New York Times and are truncheoned on the skull, i.e. warned. The message is clear, browse only the material on the “Beijing approved” shelves.
As a result, what you see, what you read and what you experience has been vetted by the communist party and its censoring machines before it ever gets to you. Obviously such an environment does not engender freedom of thought or expression.
Wile the communist party is responsible for much of the filtering, they are not the only ones. Men like Ma Huateng aka Pony Ma, CEO of the Chinese Internet company Tencent and Weixin, make Beijing’s job easier. Rather than conform to the spirit of the net (meaning freedom), they lock it down, bowing to Beijing.
Weixin or WeChat is a WhatsApp messaging clone. It is a free net based service which allows people to send instant messages, pictures, songs and short videos. What is really interesting about Weixin, however, is what you can and cannot do with it.
Because Weixin is controlled by Pony Ma and he is a “delegate to card China’s national legislature, there shouldn’t be any misconceptions as to which side of the fence the company is on”. Due to his relationship with the communist party, Mr. Ma ensures that Weixin censors key phrases which would anger Beijing. In other words, if I try to send something like “Hey, China really needs to free Tibet” to my friends across China, the message will be blocked and I may get a nasty visit from the authorities.
Of course China has the right to govern as they please inside their borders. And in defense of Mr. Ma, companies are forced to do so. This being the case, if Beijing wants to squash free speech, they have that authority. And if Weixin wants to help them, then so be it. What is disturbing, however, is that Weixin is not just blocking messages inside China, but around the globe as well. In other words, if I send that same “free Tibet” message from Thailand to Korea, it will probably be blocked as well.
Mr. Ma’s business relationship with the Chinese government is anything but opaque. Consider that China’s domestic security apparatus has direct and realtime access to WeChat messages. In other words, they can see and control everything that happens online. Before you reply that the NSA does the same thing, consider that the goals of the NSA and the Chinese government are very different. For example, the NSA does not actively filter out search terms about Obama’s birth certificate and/or college records. The Chinese government would.
The brutal reality is that Chinese companies may not be arms of the state, but they are usually not too far from being so. They predict what Beijing wants and attempt to appease it, either proactively or after the fact.
USA Funding Oppression
These same companies list on American stock exchanges in order to fund their operations, but why come to the USA? Chinese companies choose to list in the US because that is where the money is. After all, they could list in China couldn’t they? Of course they could, but they do not and why should they?
Chinese companies know that in an attempt at padding our stock portfolio, we will grab onto the “next big thing”, even if it means funding oppression. By purchasing their stocks, we are implicitly condoning censorship and their form of governance.
If that is not enough to make you reconsider purchasing Chinese stock such as Weixin, then consider the following:
Interestingly enough, Weixin blocks “Tibet talk” and news about communist leaders’ wealth, but ads for sex and knock off designer goods abound. Mr. Ma has closed his platform to free speech, but not to sales of illicit goods.
For instance, Weixin micro companies selling fake designer goods of all sorts abound. While you cannot tweet that China needs democracy, you can order up a fake Gucci purse and a couple of call girls for the night. So, if Pony Ma is so skillful at blocking free speech, which is not illegal in China, then why can’t he prevent people from selling flesh and fakes, which are illegal, as well?
Based on recent reports, Weixin removed thousands of “troublemaker” accounts but none of the pimps and hustlers. I suppose Mr. Ma just has different priorities.
Once again, Pony Ma has the right to join China’s government and to muzzle people who use his platforms, but we also have the right to choose. We can back his new play and give him our cash, or we can send a message.
Americans ultimately vote with our dollars, so the choice is ours. After seeing how unscrupulous Chinese accounting “standards” are, and how many have been caught for fraud in the USA, I have not, nor will I buy Chinese stocks, but that is just me.
What we all should do is think about what companies like WeChat stand for and then decide if we want to support that stance.