PRWeek, a publication that celebrates the bullshit of bullshitters, every year inducts worthy communications pros into its vaunted “Hall of Fame.” It’s a disgrace that Communist China President Xi Jinping hasn’t yet been named.
Xi understands better than anyone that the key to effective PR is having a simple message and then consistently and relentlessly reinforcing it. Xi’s message is readily understandable: He wants China to displace the American-led international order and create a world order of his own. The key is military supremacy, and Xi, who is China’s leader for life, has made it clear he won’t hesitate using it. To loud cheers at a recent rally, Xi warned that anyone who attempts to “subjugate” China “will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel, forged by the flesh and blood of over 1.4 billion Chinese people.”
Wi has repeatedly shown he means business. China has already launched some U.S. attacks, fortunately none involving tanks and missiles. Sophisticated China hackers reportedly have compromised dozens of U.S. government agencies, defense contractors, financial institutions, and other critical sectors, according to a private cybersecurity firm working with the federal government. The Chinese also successfully attacked Microsoft Exchange email servers – an attack that potentially impacted more than 100,000 private-sector companies. Cybersecurity experts say the full extent of China’s penetration isn’t known, and likely never will be.
Despite China’s military supremacy goals, U.S. corporations and CEOs are tripping over each other to genuflect to Wi and submit to his will. Tesla’s Elon Musk is the biggest China slobberer, suggesting tha Wi correctly played Musk as someone with “no political allegiance to any country.” Chase’s Jamie Dimon recently apologized for joking that Chase would outlast Xi’s brutal regime. Billionaire hedge fund founder Ray Dalio hailed China as a “strict parent” when asked about the disappearance of citizens who get into trouble.
Apple removed from its App Store a crowdsourced map service that allowed Hong Kong protesters to track police activity after China’s government run newspaper derided the app as “toxic software.” Google removed from its Google Play store a mobile game that allowed players to role-play a Hong Kong protestor. ESPN, a unit of Disney, prohibited employees referencing Chinese politics when discussing a supportive tweet for Hong Kong protesters posted by the general manager of the Houston Rockets.
Microsoft-owned LinkedIn gladly removed profiles in China with content not to the Xi regime’s liking. Hollywood voluntary edits its movies to comply with China’s censors. And, of course, there is the NBA and its basketball stars, who wouldn’t dare criticize China for fear of losing their lucrative licensing and endorsement deals.
I could go on . . . .
Steve Simon, the enigmatic CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, is the rare U.S. executive willing to sacrifice profits and lucrative fees rather than ignore China’s human rights and other abuses. Simon last Wednesday announced that all WTA tournaments would be suspended in China because of concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Peng subsequently disappeared from public view for weeks. Although Peng has since reappeared and offered assurances she’s okay, Simon and others fear that she’s been coerced.
WTA had planned to hold about a dozen tournaments in China annually, an arrangement that could deliver more than $100 million to the organization’s coffers. WTA hasn’t held competitions in China since the pandemic, so its withdrawal doesn’t have any short-term implications.
“This is a decision about what’s right and wrong,” Simon said in an NBC News interview. “It’s not a decision that can be influenced by business or the dollars or the politics that may be associated with it.”
I know little about professional tennis and finding details about Smith’s educational background proved elusive. The WTA, whose leadership Simon took over six years ago, doesn’t list his bio on its website. Prior to joining the WTA, Simon spent nearly three decades working at the Indian Wells tennis tournament, beginning in a sales role in 1989, according to the Palm Springs Desert Sun. Indian Wells, about 16 miles outside of Palm Springs, hosts the sixth largest men’s and women’s tennis tournament in the world, known as the BNP Paribas Open. Simon was named tournament director and chief operating officer in 2014.
According to the New York Times, Simon is a 66-year-old Southern California native who played tennis at Long Beach State University and mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 1981 alongside Lea Antonoplis.
Simon has been publicly praised by the leading luminaries in women’s tennis, including Billie Jean King and Serena Williams. Simon said he made his decision with the “full support” of the WTA’s board, which comprises eight members, including three player representatives. Shelby Rogers, the 27th highest-earning player on the tour in 2021, tweeted that she was “proud to be part of an organization like the WTA and proud of how we step up for our tennis family when it matters.”
While it’s rare for U.S. executives and celebrities to defy China, Simon isn’t alone. Another is Mark Kern, who oversaw Blizzard Entertainment’s development of the highly successful online role-playing game “World of Warcraft.” After Blizzard suspended for a year and seized the prize money of a player from Hong Kong for yelling “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” Kern posted a series of impassioned tweets to his more than 70,000 followers declaring he was boycotting his former employer. He also revealed that he was offered a $2 million “kickback bribe” to take an investment from China.
“I have watched China slowly take over as the dominant investing force in gaming and movies over the years,” tweeted Kern, who was born in Taiwan and raised in Hong Kong. “It’s a shame that U.S. companies never believed as strongly as China and Asia in investing in games, but this allowed China to have unprecedented influence over (U.S.) media.”
Another person willing to challenge China and the U.S. athletes who blindly support the country is Enes Freedom, a Turkish immigrant who plays basketball for the Boston Celtics. Freedom recently derided LeBron James’ lucrative endorsement deal with Nike as “money over morals.” Freedom accused Nike of using slave labor in China to manufacture the company’s shoes and said James was complicit for not speaking out.
Freedom’s surname was until recently Kanter, but he adopted the new identity in celebration of becoming a U.S. citizen.
Simon, Kern, and Freedom have yet to garner the laudatory news coverage they deserve. Challenging or criticizing China is viewed as racist by many in the corporate media. Indeed, The Atlantic has criticized Freedom for his popularity among conservatives, which the far-left publication deemed “the wrong kind of supporters.”
China’s Xi knows U.S. corporate and social media have his back. The lack of respect Xi clearly has for America’s corporate executives and celebrities extends to President Biden. In response to Biden’s threat of staging a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, China’s state propaganda newspaper Global Times mocked the possible decision.
“‘Diplomatic boycott’ is a roughly man-made new concept by Western politicians, meaning no ban on athletes, but government officials would not attend,” the publication quoted a Chinese academic as saying. “The only connection between politicians and the sporting event is they may attend the opening and closing ceremonies. Whoever hypes the boycott from the Western world, they are being a drama queen, attempting to steal the thunder.”
The commentary would have packed considerably more punch had it been headlined, “Let’s Go Brandon.” Polls show that’s a sentiment most Americans agree with.
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