The CEO’s of Apple and Facebook, two of the world’s biggest tech companies, have met with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader, Xi Jinping, who heads up one of the world’s most oppressive regimes and operates the world’s worst online censorship and surveillance programmes.
Cook and Zuckerberg enjoy propaganda from the top
According to the Reuters News Agency, the three men were all attending the annual gathering of advisers to Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management. Both Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg serve on this body while Xi Jinping was addressing the meeting.
According to reports, Xi Jinping took the opportunity to tell the two men that he is open to doing business with the USA and claim that China’s expansionist policies were good for the world.
“As a beneficiary of and contributor to economic globalisation, China’s development is the opportunity for the world, he stated, before adding that “China is willing to work with the US, to take a long-term perspective, care for each other’s mutual interests, and appropriately handle disagreements and contradictions… We have an optimistic attitude toward the prospects for China-US relations.
Some have interpreted this as an indication, early in his second term, that Xi Jinping wants to loosen the grip on overseas businesses operating in China. But given the recent push to force overseas businesses to set up Chinese Communist Party cells inside them as well as the crackdown on VPNs and other internet freedoms, which will affect overseas business and their employees, this seems unlikely.
Apple and Facebook courting China
The meeting comes barely a week after Xi Jinping was reappointed as leader of Communist China for another five-year term, and with no successor lined up, appears set to cling onto power for significantly longer.
Mark Zuckerberg has long been keen to get Facebook unblocked in China but is not keen to comply with the country’s censorship and surveillance programmes, which he knows would impact his business in the rest of the world. But he is married to an Asian-American and revealed last year he has been learning Mandarin Chinese.
He has also allowed himself to be pictured with a collection of Xi Jinping’s writings and even had a photo opportunity jogging across Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, seemingly oblivious to the thick smog as well as the fact that this was the location where the Chinese Communist Party massacred democracy protestors in 1989.
Meanwhile, Facebook has been increasing their number of staff in China, despite the fact that all their online services remain unavailable in the country.
Apple is in the process of launching their new iPhone X but have come under fire in recent weeks for agreeing to remove VPNs from their Chinese App Store, despite the fact that this will stop many Chinese users from being able to get around the country’s censorship regime.
Not proud of the meeting
It is perhaps most notable that neither Apple or Facebook were willing to comment publicly on the meeting, despite the fact that the leaders of both companies are usually happy to conduct such activity in the public eye.
An Apple spokesperson rather curiously said they couldn’t “comment on Tim’s schedule and or meetings”, while Facebook would only confirm that Zuckerberg was currently in Beijing.
This indicates that both men are aware of the risks of courting the leader of one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, but are likely under pressure from shareholders keen to fully utilise the huge market opportunities in China.
Both should tread very carefully though. Internet users are increasingly aware of the issues surrounding online freedom and the abuses that have taken place in China. LinkedIn’s willingness to comply with the regime has been a PR disaster for the company and the likely impact on Apple and Facebook could be even more severe.