by Fabian Kreischmer
With LinkedIn, the last Western online platform is moving out of China. Companies can no longer combine democratic values with censorship.
Beijing – In China, the language of the government is not only at odds with reality, but often quite the opposite. “The door to China will open wider and wider and will never close,” Xi Jinping said in a speech at the United Nations, which he captioned with slogans such as: “Stay connected to the world”. In fact, it has been the reverse for years. The People’s Republic closes its gates and breaks ties with other countries.
This is recently demonstrated by the example of LinkedIn: the online platform will shut down its Chinese version due to pressure from censorship authorities. Vice President Mohk Shroff wrote eloquently about “the more difficult work environment and higher compliance requirements in China”. In the Chinese statement, however, those passages are missing: everything that could cast a bad light on one’s own country is simply erased.
LinkedIn is just a blueprint
What seems like a side note has a symbolic character: Carrier Network was the last major online platform from the West that was still accessible in China. Facebook has been censored for years, as has Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp. Twitch, Snapchat, Gmail and Slack are blocked. Even Skype and Tinder can only be installed if you have an Apple account registered abroad.
LinkedIn is just the blueprint for any major international company with a presence in China. In March, Microsoft’s online service was targeted by executives for “very loose content controls.” LinkedIn had already subjected itself to unprecedented self-censorship: Profiles of Western scientists, journalists and activists were blocked. Critical words for Xi Jinping are enough to be blacklisted.
A terrible storm was brewing because of Microsoft
In the end, LinkedIn fell into a geopolitical conflict: In China they were under pressure from the authorities, while in the West a raging storm was brewing as Microsoft succumbed to censorship. “Social networks that operate in China are rapidly escalating into an impossible standoff between Chinese censorship rules and Western values,” says Schaefer, the center of the political consultancy “Trivium China”: “Honestly, it is a miracle that LinkedIn has been around for so long. Long lived in China”.
But even domestic companies are becoming less and less successful in China: Adidas was boycotted for months after the sports maker announced it would not buy cotton in the Xinjiang region because of potential bonded labor. Football clubs like FC Bayern have to silence their players, not for posting human rights crimes against the Muslim Uighur minority on Twitter about China. And in Mercedes, a mere Instagram post with a quote from the Dalai Lama was enough that the boardroom in Beijing was bowing.
Internet is little more than an intranet
China isolates itself – not just with a strictly disjointed internet, which can almost only be described as an intranet. China’s leadership has also increased control within the economy and has made it increasingly difficult for its companies to list on stock exchanges overseas.
Most importantly, there has been no significant human exchange between China and the rest of the world since the outbreak of the pandemic. Since Covid, the number of foreigners has halved again, with Belgium having more foreigners than 1.4 billion Chinese even before the crisis. Of course, China does not want to be completely isolated, but wants to set the conditions for negotiations. LinkedIn won’t even say goodbye to the People’s Republic: With “InJobs” you’ll start a relaunch, but users are no longer allowed to write their own postings.
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