Much ink and many photons have been spent discussing Russia’s attempts to influence (or at least disrupt) the American 2016 Presidential campaign. Meanwhile…
Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, sent out a tweet which said “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.” Tencent, the NBA’s exclusive digital partner in China, reacted by suspending business relations with the Rockets, and is offering fans who purchased a year-long pass to watch Rockets games the chance to switch it to a different team. A number of other Chinese companies have pulled sponsorship deals with the Rockets as well. Morey issued an apology which said in part ” was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.”
And from last year: here’s an appalling story about how anger from the Chinese government led Marriott Corporation to fire an employee who had ‘liked’ a tweet which congratulated the company for listing Tibet as a country, along with Hong Kong and Taiwan….of course, the Chinese regime considers Tibet to be a part of China, not a separate country.
China forced Marriott to suspend all online booking for a week at its nearly 300 Chinese hotels. A Chinese leader also demanded the company publicly apologize and “seriously deal with the people responsible,” the Journal reported.
And boy, did Marriott ever apologize. Craig Smith, president of the hotel chain’s Asian division, told the China Daily that Marriott had committed two significant mistakes — presumably the survey listing Tibet and the liked tweet — that “appeared to undermine Marriott’s long-held respect for China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
He announced an “eight-point rectification plan” that included education for hotel employees across the globe and stricter supervision.
And the Marriott executive said this to China’s most-read English-language newspaper: “This is a huge mistake, probably one of the biggest in my career.”
(More here…according to this article, the Chinese suppression of Marriott bookings was in response to the initial listing of Tibet as a country rather than to the tweet approving of this listing)
The Chinese economy is, shall we say, a little more dynamic than that of Russia, so the government of China has much more ability to strong-arm American corporations (in general) than does the Putin regime.
Turning now from the hotel industry to the movie industry, Richard Gere says that Chinese pressure due to his stand on Tibetan independence has led to his being dropped from big Hollywood movies. Also:
Gere’s activities have not just made Hollywood apparently reluctant to cast him in big films, he says they once resulted in him being banished from an independently financed, non-studio film which was not even intended for a Chinese release.
“There was something I was going to do with a Chinese director, and two weeks before we were going to shoot, he called saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t do it,’” Gere recalled. “We had a secret phone call on a protected line. If I had worked with this director, he, his family would never have been allowed to leave the country ever again, and he would never work.”
See also How China’s Censors Influence Hollywood. Because the Chinese market is so large…(Fast and Furious 7 pulled in $388 million in China, more than it made in the US)…the influence of the Chinese regime on US film production and distribution has become immense.
In recent years, foreign filmmakers have also gone out of their way not to provoke the Communist Party. For instance, the 2012 remake of the Cold War action movie, Red Dawn, originally featured Chinese soldiers invading an American town. After filming was complete, though, the moviemakers went back and turned the attacking army into North Koreans, which seemed a safer target, at least until last year’s hack of Sony Pictures.
Ying Zhu, a professor of media culture at the College of Staten Island at the City University of New York, worries China’s growing market power is giving the Communist Party too much leverage over Hollywood.
“The Chinese censors can act as world film police on how China can be depicted, how China’s government can be depicted, in Hollywood films,” she says. “Therefore, films critical of the Chinese government will be absolutely taboo.”
In the late 1990s, when China’s box office was still small, Hollywood did make movies that angered the Communist Party, such as Seven Years In Tibet, about the life of the Dalai Lama, and Red Corner, a Richard Gere thriller that criticized China’s legal system. Given the importance of the China market now, Zhu says those movies wouldn’t get financing today.
One point about globalization of trade that is rarely noted is that it gives foreign governments–especially those in countries where business and government are closely coupled–greatly increased leverage over American political discussion, indeed, over America’s entire public dialogue with itself.
And this influence isn’t limited only to business organizations. It is reported that the Chinese government has established extensive influence organizations targeting American universities and academic institutions, which are of course some of the most money-hungry organizations in existence. See Foreign Policy on China’s Trojan Horse.
Returning for the moment to Russia…a report by the House Science Committee says that Russia has used social media to encourage American protests aimed at suppressing the research and development of fossil fuels and stymie efforts to expand the use of natural gas. (More here, with examples of posts–See also this, from Canada.) ‘Progressives’ have minimized the significance of the Russian effort, asserting that it has been trivial in scale. But certainly, the economic and geopolitical interest of the Putin regime in harming US energy production seems direct and obvious…much more so than any possible interest they might have had in a Trump election victory.
Also, a study by Iowa State University (discussed in first link of the paragraph above) said that English-language Russian media coverage of agricultural issues “fits the profile” of an effort to amplify controversy regarding genetically modified food. Russia apparently has banned production and imports of genetically modified crops and is positioning itself as a supplier of crops that are “ecologically clean” as a contrast with countries such as the U.S. and Brazil, which allow modern gene-modification technology in plant production, particularly for corn and soybeans.
There is something of a precedent for the Chinese intervention in American move-making. The Nazi government of Germany was extremely upset about the American 1937 film ‘The Road Back’, which was based on Remarque’s great but neglected novel, and demanded major changes, on pain of boycotting all of the studio’s films (and future films involving any member of the cast, down to the hairdressers and boom operators)
The studio complied and changed the film. This was not the only case where German government demands resulted in changes to an American movie…indeed, the German consul in Los Angeles had influence operations on the Hollywood film industry as one of his major assignments. I don’t think the Geman influence was a all-encompassing at that time as it seems to have become lately with China, though.