NBA, Nike, Apple, Google Silent on China's Crackdown on Journalists in Hong Kong

At least seven journalists arrested in Hong Kong since June 17

June 29, 2021

The Chinese government's recent crackdown on journalists in Hong Kong has been met with silence from major U.S. corporations with extensive ties to the Communist regime.

Apple, Google, Nike, and the National Basketball Association did not return requests for comment on the arrest of at least seven Chinese journalists since June 17.

The targeted journalists are former employees of Apple Daily, a now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper based in Hong Kong. They were detained in accordance with a controversial "national security" law enacted in 2020 after authorities successfully stamped out pro-democracy protests in the former British territory. The law was praised in the pages of the New York Times, a newspaper that until recently made millions publishing Chinese government propaganda.

On Sunday, Chinese authorities detained a man identified by Hong Kong media as Fung Wai-kong, a former editor and columnist for the Apple Daily. According to Hong Kong police, the man was arrested at the airport for "conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security."

U.S. media could not independently verify the identity of the man arrested. If confirmed as Fung, he would be the seventh former Apple Daily journalist arrested on national security grounds since June 17, when the newspaper was forced to cease operations following a police raid.

CEO Cheung Kim Hung, COO Chow Tat Kuen, and chief editor Ryan Law were among the five senior employees arrested during the June 17 raid. Authorities also froze the Apple Daily's assets and bank accounts, and accused the company of using journalism as a "tool to endanger national security."

The arrests of the Apple Daily executives were lauded in an editorial from CGTN, a media outlet controlled by the Chinese government. The crackdown "was necessary to protect against destabilizing foreign forces," the editorial argued, accusing the newspaper of stepping "over the line of journalism into sedition" by publishing articles in defense of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Apple, Google, Nike, and the NBA have all come under fire for their deep (and exceedingly profitable) ties to China, as well as their willingness to overlook human rights abuses and submit to the Chinese government's demands. In the United States, meanwhile, these corporations are among the most outspoken when it comes to so-called social justice issues.

In 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook touted his company's commitment to "sustaining a free press and thriving democracy," but only in Western markets where such rhetoric is welcomed. In China, where supporting democracy and press freedom is a criminal offense, Apple is perfectly willing to disregard its own values.

Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that Apple's alleged commitment to civil liberties and privacy did not apply to China. The company gave Chinese government employees control over the data centers housing the personal data of Chinese customers. At the request of the government, Apple scrapped the encryption technology it uses in other countries to protect user privacy, and even removed its "Designed by Apple in California" slogan from the backs of iPhones sold in China.

Tech giant Google used to pride itself on its motto: "Don't be evil." The phrase was removed from its corporate code of conduct in 2018, however, around the time Google was pursuing a deal to launch a search engine in China that would comply with the government's strict censorship demands. The project was ultimately abandoned.

Google and its subsidiary YouTube are banned in China, but that hasn't prevented the company from blocking content critical of the Chinese government, including videos recently published by a human rights group calling attention to the genocide of Uyghur Muslims in China's Xinjiang region.

During a congressional hearing in 2020, Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai both declined to even acknowledge China's well-documented history of stealing intellectual property from U.S. companies.

Nike is "a brand of China and for China." That's how CEO John Donahoe described the company during a fourth-quarter earnings call last week, when Nike reported net income of $1.5 billion, to the delight of shareholders. Nike and Apple are among the U.S. corporations that have been lobbying Congress to weaken legislation that would ban the import of goods made with slave labor in Xinjiang.

The NBA, like Nike, has struggled to reconcile its outspoken support for social justice causes in the United States with its cozy business ties to China and its reluctance to criticize Beijing for human rights abuses. An ESPN investigation published in 2020 found that NBA training academies in Xinjiang were rife with complaints of physical abuse.

In 2019, when former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, the NBA apologized for his "regrettable" comments that had "deeply offended" Chinese fans. All-star forward LeBron James described Morey as "misinformed or not really educated on the situation."