You could be forgiven for not noticing, but the Beijing Winter Olympics is currently happening this week. Absent this year are the legions of viewers in the stands. Also absent are viewers at home: the audience for the opening day of the Olympics was down 55% from 2018. Sports commentator Bob Costas had this to say about the lack of fanfare: “The circumstances put an inevitable damper on the whole thing. The average person now fully understands the nature of the Chinese regime.” Indeed they do. For most Americans, the mask is off: we know what the Chinese government is, and we want nothing to do with it. Activist corporations, on the other hand, are still fully emmeshed with the CCP.
In the middle of an authoritarian empire that has persecuted the Church and is engaging in a campaign of ethnic-and-cultural cleansing, you can see the little banners and ads of American companies. Given that Americans have no more delusions about China, is directly associating these corporate brands with the a highly negative national “brand” a good idea? No, but when it comes to politics American corporations seem to be vulnerable to bad ideas.
I wrote last year about the world’s largest investing firm, BlackRock, and their pattern of touting China while ignoring human rights abuses, but the enthusiasm doesn’t end with them. Several American corporations are sponsoring the Beijing Olympics, including:
- Proctor & Gamble
Independently of anything else, that is a problem, and one that Christians and Christian investors should be particularly concerned about. Our companies should fully aware of the risks associated with an association with a government that relentlessly oppresses religious and ethnic minorities. According to OpenDoorsUSA, China is the 17th worst persecutor of Christians in the world, and as we’ve shown elsewhere, countries which are persecutors of the faith are statistically more likely to suffer painful regime changes (By persecuting Christians, Xi risking own regime - Asia Times)
“Well,” you might object, “that’s just the free market at work: corporations pursuing profit regardless of politics or morality.” This argument might hold some water if any of these corporations were apolitical, but they’re not – not at all. In fact, that list consists of some of the most politically-active, overbearing, condescending activist corporations in the country. Every company on that list, for instance, has publicly endorsed the Equality Act, a highly controversial piece of legislation that would explicitly undermine religious liberty and impose a social-constructivist ideology of sex and gender on every “public accommodation” in the country. How this helps those “profits” that they supposedly hold above all else remains unclear.
Both AirBnB and Proctor & Gamble also signed on to a corporate letter opposing state-level laws concerning trans-identified youth and gender reassignment procedures. Within the last week, AirBnB banned the political commentator Michelle Malkin (and her husband) from using its services. Even if you agree with AirBnB’s position, one wonders why these corporations reserve their zealotry for justice and equality for American pundits. Why is Xi exempt from their iron-clad moral code?
Someone ought to ask the worst of these corporations: Coca-Cola, among the most hypocritical and unrelenting activist corporations. Coca-Cola has a long history of standing up and speaking down to Americans at home while sitting down and shutting up about human dignity abuses overseas. Coke was so outraged about “hate speech” and “disinformation” on social media that they boycotted Facebook and Instagram, refusing to run ads on those platforms until Zuckerberg upped his censorship. But advertising for and at the Beijing Olympics? Well, that’s just business. We shouldn’t be surprised: this is the same Coca-Cola that lobbied against a bill that would have banned the import of products made via forced labor in Xinjiang.
While they profit off ethnic cleansing, they turn around and lecture American politicians about voting laws while telling their employees to “be less white.” How are voting rights in China these days? How’s the CCP’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan coming along? Is the ruling class of China told to “be less Han”? Are the BIPOC & LGBTQIAP+ communities well represented in Chinese businesses and government? How about their greenhouse gas emissions? Still set for net-zero by 2050? No, China is the world’s largest emitter (a fact obscured by the use of emissions per capita). Coca-Cola couldn’t answer these questions because it does not care. For many American corporations, moralizing is for domestic consumption only, and simply does not apply to the CCP.
The smug lecturing of our managerial elite would be problematic in any situation, but for them to do so while they sign a Faustian bargain with the world’s most dangerous empire adds insult to injury. These corporations were already viewed with suspicion by a large portion of the public – it’s difficult to imagine their financial alliance with Beijing will rehabilitate their image. Christian investors who hold these stocks ought to be asking some tough questions about how their money has been used. Have managers truly followed Jesus’ advice to “count the cost” before embarking on an enterprise? Christians who own shares in these companies need to engage with them – not least because China’s government is one of foremost enemies of the Church.
While Beijing’s corporate partners may think of themselves as beyond any one country, corporate executives are still subject to the laws of this country – meaning, they are essentially nothing more than employees of the companies’ shareholders. If a CEO, COO, or CFO wants to spend shareholder money on marketing campaigns for the apartheid state of China, the shareholders they serve are owed an explanation, at the very least.
These companies are devaluing their brands and antagonizing the American consumer. What’s worse, they are doing so to get on the good side of a government one ought to be proud to count as an enemy. The gamble isn’t going to pay off. There was a time (back in 2008) when companies could at least make a profit-based argument that China’s “soft-power” was something worth associating your business with. This is not that time. The Chinese government has no champions among the American people. It still does in the American corporation. It's time for Christian shareholders to do something about that.
Charles is a risk analyst and columnist at TownhallFinance. He has written for National Review Online, AsiaTimes, RealClearMarkets, and the Theopolis Institute. @charlesgbowyer