by Ann Lau, Chair, Visual Artists Guild
This past Wednesday, the CEOs of Facebook, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, AMD, Qualcomm, Intel, Linkedln, AME Cloud Ventures, AirBnB and China's top tech giants came together in Seattle to meet with China's president Xi Jinping. Noticeably missing is Google which moved its servers to Hong Kong in 2010 but is now in talks with China.
Even as China has recently passed a law that would force foreign tech companies to provide source code, store Chinese user data in China and allow China's government to access through hardware and software back door to monitor data within the computer systems, these CEOs seem ready to comply. Of course, such a law will simply allow China's government to better control their people.
In 1997, as Hong Kong was about to be turned over to China's rule, I and other members of Visual Artists Guild went to Hong Kong and interviewed businessman Peter Fan for our documentary "Hong Kong in Transition"(*). Mr. Fan commented that once public companies became China government related companies, "They will have more than an economic agenda. They tend to want to move the company to a certain direction, a certain purpose. Prior to that Hong Kong works on 100% business: if it makes money, its good; if it loses money, its bad. Nowadays, if it makes money, it must also satisfy a set of other criteria before a deal becomes a good deal. The Hong Kong business circle has to live with a new reality and I am not sure if all Hong Kong people can accept that."
Last year's Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong showed that after 17 years under China's rule, the majority of people in Hong Kong are still not accepting this new reality. While the young people in Hong Kong spearheaded the movement, the Hong Kong tycoons, though pressured by Xi Jinping when they were invited to meet him prior to Hong Kong's protests, refused to succumb to such pressure and made no statement against the students. (**)
The danger of succumbing to being slaves of economy and finance by the American CEOs is that it will come back to haunt them. A great example is the case of Symantec which gave their anti-virus software code to China between 1999 and 2000 in order to do business in China. In 2001, the Code Red worm which originated in China infected the White House system and hundreds of thousands others. Last year, Symantec was removed from China's approved list of anti-virus software as China only approved home grown companies although Symantec is still allowed to sell their products in China.
If American CEOs no longer uphold our American principle of standing up for the rights of others, they should at least learn the lesson from Symantec.