Mercedes-Benz, the luxury unit of Daimler AG , recently learned the price of crossing Beijing. Earlier this month the German car maker was attacked by state media after posting an anodyne Dalai Lama quote on Instagram. The company quickly and abjectly apologized to the Chinese government. It then went further, promising “no support, assistance, aid or help to anyone who intentionally subverts or attempts to subvert China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
[Michael Auslin | Feb. 20, 2018 | WSJ]
This public humiliation has prompted many companies to ask: How much is it worth to stay in China’s markets?
Gone are the days when China bided its time, as counseled by Deng Xiaoping. In exchange for continued access to Chinese markets, Beijing increasingly expects Western companies to engage in self-censorship, accept government control over information, and even punish their own workers for offending China.
Few companies have been willing to stand up for themselves when singled out. In January the American hotel giant Marriott caved in to pressure and temporarily shut down its websites in China. Its offense? An online questionnaire listed Tibet, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong as independent countries. After changing the website, the company’s CEO publicly stated that Marriott “respects and supports Chinese sovereignty and its territorial integrity.” Delta Air Lines , Qantas, Zara and Audi are also fellow travelers in China’s geopolitical strategy.