Game, set, match. WTA provides the leadership Apple so desperately needs in China

On November 19, 2021, Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Chairman Steve Simon was interviewed by CNN about the disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. 

As a public statement made by the head of an international organization and business corporation, Simon’s words are extraordinary:

There are too many times in our world today when we get into issues like this, that we let business, politics, and money dictate what’s right and what’s wrong. When we have a young person who has the fortitude to step up and make these allegations, knowing full well what the results of that are going to be, for us to not support that, and demand justice as we go through it, we have to start as a world making decisions that are based upon right and wrong, period. And we can’t compromise that. We’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it, because this is bigger than the business.

When the Chairman of an organization is willing to risk a billion dollars worth of business to pull out of a market like China in an attempt to ensure the safety of one person, then, suddenly, the demands of the human rights community cease to be naïve, unrealistic and idealistic. Steve Simon’s statement illustrates what it means to make the right decision, and to stand up for what really matters. 

Tim Cook needs to pay attention to Peng Shuai’s case and to the reaction from the WTA in particular. The WTA has chosen a path that stands in direct contrast to the choice that many Western companies have made in the past. Regardless of how this situation unfolds – the WTA might very well have to withdraw from the China market – the WTA’s decision and the words of its Chairman are exemplary and prove that there is actually a choice for companies who operate in China. 

It is irrelevant to reference Apple’s financial stake in China to justify the decisions that the Cupertino-based company has made. The WTA is risking billions of dollars with their decision. If the size of the market is the criteria that Apple uses to make its decisions, then the company could have adopted a different policy in Russia, where it makes substantially less money than it does in China. Apple could have refused to remove apposition leader Alexei Navalny’s app from its App Store. But it didn’t, because Apple’s willingness to collaborate with repressive regimes is influenced by more than the political and financial weight of the censors. Apple thinks differently.

Although it is conceivable that, initially, Apple believed the best strategy was to engage with every country and everyone despite fundamental differences and views on freedoms and human rights, it is clear that this is no longer the reason why Apple “complies with local laws” when censoring the App Store following government requests.

Tim Cook has had more than enough time to conclude that Apple is not inducing any positive change in China. Apple is not changing China, but China is severely altering Apple. During the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou in  2017, Tim Cook said:

“When you go into a country and participate in a market, you are subject to the laws and regulations of that country. Your choice is, do you participate or do you stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be. My own view very strongly is you show up and you participate, you get in the arena, because nothing ever changes from the sideline.” 

Apple’s repeated censorship of content and apps, including the recent removal of religious apps from China’s App Store, on behalf of the Chinese government, shows that Beijing got the better of Apple’s intentions.

As for the current international outcry over Peng Shuai’s situation, we strongly hope that the coming days and weeks will show that, contrary to Tim Cook’s belief, things can change from the sidelines. In this case, change is coming from the baselines, and from people and organizations outside China who have refused to compromise with an authoritarian regime. 

The WTA is showing Apple what it means to put values and people before business. If he refuses to hear the thousands of voices of the human rights community, Tim Cook should nevertheless listen to Steve Simon and to immediately start to make decisions “based upon right and wrong”. 

Read further about Apple’s system of values: https://applecensorship.com/apple-values-are-upside-down/

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