Trump was right.

Yes, that’s a cheap ploy to capture your attention, no matter if you love the guy, hate his guts, are sick and tired of all things Trump, or fall somewhere in between the poles of that triangular spectrum.

What was he right about? China’s… let’s call it ‘malevolence.’ Bari Weiss’s recent column that discussed China’s treatment of the Uyghurs and the corporate world’s sniveling apologia to Xi Jinping and the CCP prompted my blog-brain to that conclusion today.

Consider how many major companies have actually apologized to China in one form or another, no matter that they’re apologizing for truths:

Kodak, for sharing photos of Uyghurs being oppressed: “For a long time, Kodak has maintained a good relationship with the Chinese government and has been in close cooperation with various government departments. We will continue to respect the Chinese government and the Chinese law. We will keep ourselves in check and correct ourselves, taking this as an example of the need for caution.”

The NBA, because one GM tweeted support for Hong Kong protests: “We are extremely disappointed in the inappropriate remarks of Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. He has undoubtedly severely hurt the feelings of Chinese fans.”

Dior, Calvin Klein, Swarovski, Coach, Fresh, Givenchy, and Gap, for depicting a map of China that did not include Hong Kong, Taiwan, or both: “… upholds China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” pretty much word-for-word.

Valentino, Asics, Versace, Coco, Yifang, McDonalds, Medtronic, Marriott, Zara, Delta, and Audi committed the same sin and issued similar apologies.

Tiffany, for running an ad that appeared to support the Hong Kong protests: “We regret that it may be perceived as such, and in turn have removed the image from our digital and social media channels and will discontinue its use effective immediately.”

Mercedes-Benz, for quoting the Dalai Lama on Instagram: “This morning, we released a very incorrect message on international social media.”

Pro wrestler turned actor John Cena groveled for the same “Taiwan is a separate country” faux pas: “I’m really sorry. You have to understand that I love and respect China.”

There are many more examples (looking at you, LeBron), but you get the point.

Notable in this is the nature of the apologizers: Consumer goods, especially luxury brands, and entertainment. It’s pretty obvious that this is about retaining access to a market of 1.4 billion people, over 5 million of whom are worth more than a million dollars. China’s leadership is obviously aware of the power they wield over the companies that want access to that vast consumer base, and is clearly not even slightly hesitant to use it.

This is a very tough nut to crack, from a liberty perspective. The people of Hong Kong and Taiwan are facing oppression from an autocratic and anti-liberty government. In modern social justice context, they warrant “ally” status, as much as or more than our domestic ‘oppressed’ do. This is triply true for the Uyghurs, who are suffering in work camps and witnessing the forced eradication of their culture. The tools we’ve seen used by American leaders, however, have proven ineffective, and it’s very difficult to justify continuing the employ of coercive trade restrictions (see: tariffs) given this ineffectiveness.

Yet, some response remains warranted to this ‘soft fascism’ control over big corporations, given that the normal guardrails of a free society (government protection of individual and property rights) aren’t in play. There’s also the matter of our unofficial alliance with Taiwan (sadly, Hong Kong is lost, and I fear for the liberty-loving protestors there. I still think we should patriate as many as want to come here).

A market response seems insufficient. I cannot imagine a “don’t buy” campaign would garner anywhere near the numbers needed to give some spine to the corporate grovelers. If every big company wants access to China’s market, what will our options be? Even “buy American” doesn’t pack weight if those sellers also sell in China and bend the knee to Chinese econofascism.

In a way, this no-way-out dilemma mirrors the problem that PayPal founder David Sack highlighted – systemic financial deplatforming. Today, it is beyond doubt that millions are absolutely dependent on electronic business transacting for their livelihoods. If you’re engaged in e-commerce of any sort, you rely on companies like PayPal, Stripe, Square, GoFundMe, Venmo, and Zelle as much as or more than Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. That stacks on top of the banking institutions. Even traditionally cash-paid jobs such as food service are increasingly reliant on electronic movements of money.

What happens if these companies decide that Business_01, despite engaging in fully legal and Constitutionally protected activities, incurs the wrath of a Big Tech algorithm and gets zotted into e-purgatory? By the book, they have the right to choose not to do business with any individual or company, for any reason. However, the reality is that this falls into the range of the word “systemic,” and a society that values liberty has, it can be argued, an interest in addressing “systemic” denials of such, even if they originate in the private sector.

So it goes with China, and it mirrors my argument with anarcho-capitalism: i.e. there is no “free market” solution to another country’s standing army. Government serves a purpose in the preservation of liberty and free markets.

When Trump started his tariff war with China, I thought it was the wrong approach, and would prove ineffective, since all it did was raise prices on consumers here. I believed that a better approach would be to write robust bilateral free trade agreements with every one of China’s neighbors, giving American companies access and giving American consumers alternate sources for goods. I still think that’s a preferred path, but I suspect it wouldn’t be enough. The lure of a billion consumers is enough to make too many abandon principles.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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