Some Americans would hope that the entry of American technology firms like Google and Yahoo into China is the second-coming of Glasnost. Don't kid yourselves.
One reason Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft want to be in China is to ward off the competition from local firms who will soon dominate the China market and may pose an international business threat. Google and Yahoo have great technology, but it's not rocket science. Even America's rocket science has been co-opted by the Chinese as they reach for new physical heights. If Chinese can build a Great Wall, they can build most anything, right?
In this globalized world, Chinese boycott McDonalds when Sino-US tensions flare. Americans rename french fries when US-Franco ties are frayed. Indonesian Muslims refrain from buying Legos when the Danish-Muslim relationship is in jeopardy. And the U.S. Congress roasts technology companies for doing business in China. Globalization touches all of us.
Globalization, as a relatively new "world order" that developed after the Cold War, has its own rules that everybody is still struggling to learn. The world is experiencing all the hormonal twists that go along with an adolescent learning process.
One important feature of our new globalized world is that a corporate logo might be internationally recognized, but that corporation's execution of its duties differs among localities.
Online firms can not sell Nazi-related goods in some European countries, but they are free to do so in the America. Amazon.com's logo is the same in Germany as it is in Scotland, but execution is different.
In the United States, a Massachusetts regulatory board is requiring Wal-Mart to sell morning-after contraceptives, going against the company's corporate policy not to stock emergency contraceptive medication. The Wal-Mart logo stays the same around the world, but the company must obey local laws in order to offer its other services to local Massachusetts' consumers.
America's response to technology companies operating in China is based on good intentions, but ignores the reality of a globalized world. Pressuring Yahoo to break Chinese laws is like being a conspirator to a crime. The Google logo hangs on the door of the company's Shanghai office, but the Chinese staff working inside would rather stay at the company than pound stones in a labor camp.
It is distressing to see that Starwood Hotels was pressured by the American government to possibly break Mexican laws when a Mexico City Sheraton hotel ejected a visiting Cuban delegation. For those of you unaware, America has an embargo against countries like Cuba and North Korea. Will Kodak be sued if a photographer uses the American company's film to snap a picture of North Korea's leader?
Where does it stop? In a globalized world, we must make clear distinctions. America does not rule the entire world, yet. In a globalized world, a McDonalds franchisee in Thailand feels that his McDonalds is a Thai business selling Thai beef cooked by Thai employees. But his restaurant carries a global, American brand.
China has long had a public relations problem. It struggles to understand brand management. A repressive Orwellian nation like Singapore goes unnoticed because the citizens speak English and add great glimmer to their grey walls. But China for a long time either did not understand how to put its best foot forward, or did not care to impress the West.
In this globalized world, information is important. China must do better to educate its investors around the world what its intentions are and how it expects to grow. It can not rely on symbolic messages wrapped in poems that are encased in elaborate designs.
And Google, Cisco, Microsoft, and Yahoo need to also better educate their American constituencies about what they are doing in China. But they should not back down and they should not leave China. Call it corporate social responsibility, albeit a slightly different shade of CSR.
There is work to be done by all parties involved, but disengagement from China solves nothing and only closes the door for future openness. If the U.S. Congress is truly interested in Chinese consumers' access to choice, it should spend its limited time on other issues, like eliminating the draconian Patriot Act.
About the author:
The author is a writer and correspondent for ChinaTechNews.com and can be reached here at the site. The author does not hold any positions, long or short, on any of the Chinese or American company securities mentioned in this article.