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?

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The drumbeat for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) is growing louder. Earlier this week, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, became the latest high-profile Silicon Valley figure to call for governments to put guardrails around technologies that use huge amounts of (sometimes personal) data to teach computers how to identify faces, make decisions about mortgage applications, and myriad other tasks that previously relied on human brainpower.

More

January 27 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp. But even as some 40 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem this week to commemorate the six million Jews who were killed, a recent Pew survey revealed that many American adults don't know basic facts about the ethnic cleansing of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. Fewer than half of those polled knew how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and close to a third didn't know when it actually happened. Here's a look at some of the numbers.

1: The Greek parliament has elected a woman president for the first time since the country's independence some 200 years ago. A political outsider, Katerina Sakellaropoulou is a high court judge with no known party affiliation. "Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism," Greece's prime minister said.

More

A quarantine in China– Local authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak of a new and potentially deadly respiratory virus that, as of Thursday morning, had infected more than 540 people in at least six countries. Other nearby cities were also hit by travel restrictions. Rail and air traffic out of Wuhan has been halted. Public transportation is shut, and local officials are urging everyone to stay put unless they have a special need to travel. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, many of whom were about to travel for the Chinese New Year. We're watching to see whether these extraordinary measures help stem the outbreak, but also to see how the people affected respond to the clampdown.

More