American companies have an obligation to defend the freedom of expression, even at the risk of angering China, writes The New York Times‘ Editorial Board. From the article: China’s assertive campaign to police discourse about its policies, even outside of its borders, and the acquiescence of American companies eager to make money in China, pose a dangerous and growing threat to one of this nation’s core values: the freedom of expression. The Communist state is becoming more and more aggressive in pressuring foreign companies to choose between self-censorship and the loss of access to what will soon be the world’s largest market. An old list of taboo topics, sometimes described as the “three Ts” — Tibet, Tiananmen and Taiwan — has been joined by newer subjects that must not be mentioned, including protests in Hong Kong and China’s mistreatment of its Muslim minority. The Constitutions of China and the United States both enshrine freedom of speech, but China’s totalitarian regime has long taken a narrow view of that freedom — and American companies have long accepted those restrictions while doing business in China. Now, however, China is seeking to control not just what is said in China but what is said about China, too. If China has its way, any topic it deems off limits will be scrubbed from global discourse.
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the United States finds itself in a contest of ideas and principles with a country in its own weight class. But this time is different. The United States and China are economically intertwined: The trade volume between the two countries is the greatest of any between two countries in the history of the world. There is no reasonable prospect of disengagement, nor is that a desirable outcome. The clear necessity is for the two countries to find ways of living together, and coexistence requires respect for differences. Instead, China is engaged in the kind of cultural imperialism it often decries. China insists that its national interest is at stake. So is the national interest of the United States and other free nations. China has taken a hard line, and it’s time for the United States to respond in kind. The United States and American businesses have a duty to not appease the censors in Beijing — even if the price of insisting on free expression is a loss of access to the Chinese market.
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