U.S. senator says Apple should defend free expression in China

By

Tim Cook
Comments came after a recent keynote Tim Cook gave in China.
Photo: Apple

Democratic Party Senator for Vermont Patrick Leahy has argued that Apple has a “moral obligation” to push back against suppression of free expression in China.

Leahy, who is the most senior senator and took office in 1975, has previously questioned Apple’s relationship with the government in China. In a new interview with CNBC, he said that, “American tech companies have become leading champions of free expression. But that commitment should not end at our borders.”

Leahy continued that, “Global leaders in innovation, like Apple, have both an opportunity and a moral obligation to promote free expression and other basic human rights in countries that routinely deny these rights.” While he argued that Apple is, to use Tim Cook’s words, a “force for good” in China, it is important that it uses its power to, “push back on Chinese suppression of free expression.”

Apple in China

Senator Patrick Leahy’s comments came following a speech by Tim Cook at China’s World Internet Conference over the weekend. The conference, which has been characterized as promoting China’s view of a more censored and controlled internet, highlighted the challenge Apple faces as it tries to expand its presence in one of the world’s biggest markets.

Cook notably didn’t speak out against the idea of a controlled, censored internet, although he did make comments about how future internet and AI technologies can be built with “privacy, security, and humanity” in mind.

This is a topic that Apple has clashed with China on, but Apple has nearly always backed down. For example, recently Apple fans in China were perturbed after buying the new Apple Watch Series 3 after its LTE connectivity, the chief feature of the new device, was reportedly blocked after brief availability with one carrier due to security concerns. In the past, Apple has also been ordered to shut down the iBookstore and iTunes Movies in China, as well as been forced to accept the Chinese government’s demands that it run network safety evaluations on all Apple products before they can be imported into the country.

Most notably, it has lately been made to remove Skype from its App Store in China, being told that it does not comply with local laws, possibly due to its strong encryption — which makes messages difficult for the government to monitor.

Do you think Apple should speak out against issues like this around the world, much as it does on political and social issues back home? Or is Apple’s only responsibility to make money for its shareholders? Let us know your thoughts on this divisive issue below.

Update: Responding to some of the criticisms, Tim Cook told an audience at the Fortune Forum in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou that, it is important to work with the government to prompt change. “My hope over time is that some of the things, the couple of things that’s been pulled, come back,” he said. “I have great hope on that and great optimism on that.”

Source: CNBC

  • Jurassic

    As Tim Cook said, Apple is “defending free expression in China” by participating, rather than by standing on the sidelines “shouting” at China.

    If you ever wanted to change someone’s mind about anything, shouting at them and telling them that they are wrong is not only ineffective, it is also counter-productive. The best way to change someone’s mind is to see things from their point of view, and find commonality with that person.

    This street goes both ways. It is debatable whether China has more media censorship than in the United States (which has a more subtle form of censorship), but in other areas the Chinese government puts the US to shame. China has excelled at bringing its citizens out of poverty, at being fully committed to combatting climate change, and at encouraging and supporting growth of the renewable energy sector.

    Yet Chinese businesses operating in the United States don’t denigrate America, or decide to not do business in America as a form of protest against the USA’s terrible record in those areas. Chinese businesses in America operate following the laws and customs of America, just as Apple in China operates following the laws and customs of China.

    • Guy

      “As Tim Cook said, Apple is defending free expression in China by participating, rather than by standing on the sidelines “shouting” at China.”

      Agreed. Furthermore, what business does a multinational corporation have dictating to another country how to run that country? Apple makes changes where they can, like the working conditions for people that make their products. Anyone who says that Apple doesn’t try is kidding themselves and in fact, Apple’s efforts have shamed many others to at least try to do the same things. Is it perfect? No and yes there still are abuses, but the economic impact for these companies to run afoul of Apple’s requested standards is that Apple won’t renew their contracts which is all the leverage they have.

      “This street goes both ways. It is debatable whether China has more media censorship than in the United States (which has a more subtle form of censorship), but in other areas the Chinese government puts the US to shame. China has excelled at bringing its citizens out of poverty, at being fully committed to combatting climate change, and at encouraging and supporting growth of the renewable energy sector.”

      No it isn’t debatable at all. China has infinitely more censorship than the US both in media and for their citizens. Try standing on a street corner in Beijing and saying something (true or not) against Xi Jinping and see what happens. Nevermind a full blown demonstration as there has been against current and former US Presidents. Ask a reporter in China about Tiananmen Square protests on the record and watch what happens. Ask them about Tibet, or relations with Vietnam, or propping up someone as horrible as 3 generations of the Kim family in North Korea. Or the one child per family experiment which resulted in the abortions of millions of female fetuses and deaths of many others.

      China hasn’t brought anyone out of poverty. They opened their borders to companies like Apple which has employed millions but only through Chinese-owned companies for which a lot of intellectual property has been “liberated”. Committing to climate change means little while their cities are choking in smog and dust that won’t change until their factories are held to the same expensive standards the US and other countries imposed decades ago. So don’t hold your breath on that.

      And to answer your potential question, yes I’ve been to China (Beijing and Shenyang), Hong Kong, and Taiwan back in 1990 about a year after Tiananmen Square. I’m not arguing that the US doesn’t have it own horrible history (it certainly does), but you seem to have a very romanticized image of China that it doesn’t deserve.