GZERO Media logo

Parade of Apologies: International Firms in China

Parade of Apologies: International Firms in China

American corporations have shown a new willingness to take stands on divisive US political issues like gun control, environmental policy, and immigration. But one place they and their international competitors aren’t so politically plucky is China.


So far this year, more than a dozen international firms — including the airlines Delta and Qantas (Australia), fashion retailer Zara (Spain), the hotel chain Marriott (US), medical equipment manufacturer Medtronic (US), and luxury automaker Daimler (Germany) — have apologized publicly to Beijing. If you’re speaking Chinese, you might even say they’ve kowtowed. Their offense? Treating Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Tibet as independent countries in their marketing materials.

That may seem like a small detail, but it’s a big deal for Beijing, which considers all three to be part of China, full stop. In the past, CEOs would usually have gotten away with a private apology to the Chinese government, but as President Xi Jinping stakes out a more assertive position, those days are over.

There’s a broader confluence of commerce and geopolitics going on here. As hundreds of millions of Chinese steadily rise into the middle class, no company wants to miss out on that lucrative commercial opportunity. But that also means increasingly accepting China’s view of the world over Washington’s. And it’s not just about market access. International firms increasingly see China as a source of capital itself — just weeks after Daimler’s CEO apologized, twice, for quoting the Dalai Lama in an advertisement, China’s automaker Geely took a $9 billion stake in the German company.

The challenges facing these consumer goods and services firms reflect a similar problem that Western tech firms have struggled with for several years — whether to submit to Beijing’s policies on censorship and surveillance in exchange for access to more than 700 million web users.

The broader question for global companies (and their shareholders) is this: As we enter a world where the largest consumer market is an opaque one-party dictatorship, what’s the best way to manage a growing trade off between your values and your valuation?

Meet Alessandra Cominetti, a recipient of MIT Technology Review Magazine's Innovators Under 35 award. As a lab technician at Eni's Research Centre for Renewable Energy in Novara, Alessandra has devoted her career to finding new solutions and materials to optimize solar energy. Much like the serendipitous encounter that resulted in her employment, her eagerness and willingness to try new things allowed her to stumble upon a material for the creation of portable solar panels.

Watch her remarkable story on the latest episode of Faces of Eni.

"If [the election] is very close and it ends up in the courts, that kind of protracted situation I think will lead many Americans to believe that it was an unfair election." Rick Hasen, election law expert and author of Election Meltdown, lays out some of the worst-case scenarios for Election Day, ranging from unprecedented voter suppression to dirty tricks by foreign actors. The conversation was part of the latest episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. The episode begins airing nationally in the US on public television this Friday, October 30. Check local listings.

"No election is conducted perfectly, and elections have all kinds of problems.We're going to have more problems because we're running an election during a pandemic." Election law expert Rick Hasen cautions that both campaigns could misconstrue honest mistakes in the administration of this week's national election as nefarious acts. The integrity of the election, he warns, could be compromised by human error and the unprecedented challenges posed by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Hasen's especially concerned about key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

With COVID increasing in France, Germany, Spain, and elsewhere, has Europe lost control of the pandemic?

Well, I wouldn't say lost control, but clearly it is a very worrying situation. With COVID increasing virtually everywhere, we see a new wave of semi-lockdowns... it's not as bad as it was in the spring... with the hope of being able to contain the surge during the month of November. Let's wait and see.

More Show less

An extended conversation with Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former top State Department official under President Obama and the CEO of the think tank New America. Slaughter spoke with Ian Bremmer about how a "President Biden" could reshape US foreign policy.

UNGA banner

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal