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Funds over freedom: Western companies bending to China’s demands for profit

This blog is authored by Alyssa Fong, Public Affairs and Advocacy Manager for the UK and the Republic of Ireland at the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation.

Last week, Glasgow-based company, Emubands, bowed down to the Hong Kong governments demands to remove “Glory to Hong Kong” from the streaming sites, Spotify and Apple music. In other words, a Western company, which can enjoy all the rights of their home country’s democracy, is actively contributing to the crackdown in Hong Kong.

‘Glory to Hong Kong’ became the unofficial protest anthem during the 2019 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

The allure of China’s large consumer base is a powerful motivator for Western companies to oblige to the will of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but the pursuit of profit is now coming at the cost of Hong Kong’s history being erased.

Western countries benefit from the democratic values of their home countries but will actively contribute to the silencing of dissent in Hong Kong so long as it benefits them economically. It only takes a mere twist of the arm for Western companies to bow down to China’s demands because, money for them is more important than freedom for us.

The CCP’s attempt to remove the song signifies a broader strategy to rewrite history and suppress the spirit of resistance that echoed through Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy. Having it wiped from the digital landscape is China’s attempt to erase evidence of our democratic spirit but if the Tiananmen Square Massacre has taught us anything, it’s that the more China tries to eradicate our history, the more we will push back against their erasure.

As outlined in Bethany Allen’s book ‘Beijing Rules’,  this is not the first time Western companies have complied with the Chinese governments demands. Apple’s desperation for the Chinese market have seen them, on many occasions, bootlick China’s demands to remove VPNs from the App Store which are used to bypass China’s strict censorship laws, as well as relocating Chinese user data to state-run servers. Apple is happy to strangulate user privacy, and freedom of information to continue selling in China. LinkedIn also prioritised reaching a Chinese audience by kowtowing to the CCP’s demands to monitor and restrict content. Theses cases reflect the broader tensions between global companies and authoritarian regimes; with too many succumbing to the will of the Chinese Communist Party. The cost of compliance is the restriction of our freedoms in China and Hong Kong.

However, this week, the song reappeared on streaming platforms via another music distributor.

The CCP hopes that economic temptation will lead to the erasure of our cultural symbols of resistance and weaken our collective identity. ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ will continue to remain a powerful symbol of our fight for democracy. Just how Tiananmen Square Massacre vigils pop up in multiple cities, and the ‘Pillar of Shame’ travels throughout the world – ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ will live on.

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