On Their Knees For China

Fast Company isn’t the only media publication to decry Apple’s recent capitulation to China, but I think they have the best and most detailed take on the hows and whys. Just in case you have a normal life and don’t follow tech news, here’s the precis: For a few years now, Apple has sold deliberately crippled versions of its core products to Chinese customers. The China-spec stuff is unable to get around the “Great Firewall” that separates Chinese citizens from the Internet at large.

Some savvy customers have gotten around this restriction with vaguely-named apps that create VPN connections to out-of-China proxies, allowing them to see the outside world and encrypting the communication so the government can’t see their thoughtcrime. But those apps are no longer available through Apple’s App Store, because the company has yet again bowed to pressure from the Chinese government. Apple willingly does everything the Chinese government demands, including sending Tim Cook to literally dance on stage like a monkey for the amusement of high-ranking Party members.

That’s the same Tim Cook who has weaponized Apple’s products and bankroll for social justice here in the US. Cook and his PR flacks never tire of criticizing Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and Christians who don’t share his opinion of gay marriage. Yet China is decades behind the United States in everything from gay marriage (hell no!) to showing gay people on TV (not permitted in some cases) to the jailing, torture, and murder of political dissidents. So why is Cook absolutely fierce about Trump but feeble about Chinese abuses?


The Fast Company story buries the lede about twenty paragraphs down: Tim Cook dances like a puppet in China because China has an iron fist around Apple’s supply chain. Nearly every single piece of hardware Apple sells is actually manufactured in China by companies in which Apple has either a nominal share or no share at all. It is within the Chinese government’s power to simply halt Apple’s operations tomorrow. There would be no recourse, not for Apple and not for its partners. Nor does the prospect of losing Apple’s business, no matter how substantial, particularly daunt the country’s leadership. This is a place where forty-five million people were killed by Mao, and where 250 million people are currently being forcibly relocated from their family farms into the urban unskilled-labor pool.

This is the dark side of the “efficient” and “cost-effective” move to Chinese manufacturing that is regularly praised by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to the Stockholm-syndrome HailCorporate types on TTAC. The American people have been conditioned to think of China as a magic black hole that accepts CAD files and returns shiny new products at pennies on the dollar — but the Chinese people have their own agency and their own agenda. This is why you keep your manufacturing in the United States: because if it you own a factory here, you really own it.

Yet even if Apple was not under a production guillotine, they’d still get on their knees to China, and it’s easy to understand why. Think of Apple as a married woman, the United States as the henpecked husband, and China as the devil-may-care boyfriend. Anybody who has been in that situation as any of the parties knows that wife has completely different expectations for each of her partners. The boyfriend can stand her up, “forget” his wallet at dinner, force her to take compromising photos, you name it. The husband gets screamed at because he missed an item on his grocery-shopping list.

What’s the difference between these two? It’s simple. The husband has shown, time and time again, that he can be bullied. The boyfriend hasn’t. So the wife treats her boyfriend with deference and her husband with contempt.

In this analogy, the United States is obviously the husband. Tim Cook and his crew has learned that there is no abuse too strong for American governments and citizens to accept. Multi-million-dollar subsidies for a local presence? Done! A winking acceptance of billion-dollar tax evasion? No problem! Send those profits overseas! How about lecturing the entire country on Silicon Valley morality and forcing people to bake that cake? Of course! There’s no reason that Apple shouldn’t be setting moral standards in a country where they build almost nothing, pay almost no taxes, and cheerfully vacuum billions of dollars out of the economy every year so they can send the revenue to China and the profit to a tiny island in the English Channel!

China, just as obviously, is the boyfriend. Apple will get on its knees for China. They know their place. They would never dare to criticize the government, nor will they ever attempt to make policy. They’ll teach their Chinese partners how to build iPhones and hand over the intellectual property on a platter. And in the unlikely case that a few Chinese citizens manage to use an Apple product to get some news about the world outside the nine-dash line, Apple will SHUT IT DOWN. Here in the United States, Apple will lecture the FCC about net neutrality. In China, however, Apple is an active and servile partner in state-sponsored censorship.

What’s to be done? In a perfect world, we’d have some shareholder activism, demanding that Apple clean up its act, diversify its production, and stop bowing to the Chinese at every opportunity. In this world, we’re probably going to need someone in the American government to stand up to Apple and speak to them in the same terms that the Chinese do: Pay your taxes, build your stuff here, stop trying to remake the entire United States in the image of the Castro, don’t fire your diversity officer because she admits that diversity is about more than just color and sex. It won’t happen overnight. Ask any husband who has managed to fix his marriage and get rid of a boyfriend. It’s a long process. But it starts when you adopt a fighter’s mindset. Did we do that when we elected President Trump? I hope that’s the case. Apple might be comfortable kneeling before China, but the United States should think about getting back on its feet. Sooner rather than later.

35 Replies to “On Their Knees For China”

  1. everybodyhatesscott

    force her to take compromising photos

    Force? she’ll do it enthusiastically

    Apple will lecture the FCC about net neutrality

    You going to write about net neutrality? I don’t know enough about it except I don’t trust the people/companies (Apple, google, facebook) who seem to be in an uproar about it.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I was going to do it tonight or tomorrow… I think you’re right not to trust these companies. It’s about controlling a channel, not about freedom on either side.

      Reply
    • DeadWeight

      Last warning, DW. No more links to that. Period point blank. Linking to that site will cause us to be tarnished by association and will put us on work filters..

      Here’s a safe except –

      The High Cost of Free Trade

      “Any company large enough to export to the rest of the world, or import from the rest of the world, is in bed with the Chinese government. More important, any tech firm big enough to play on the global stage is deeply connected to the Chinese military, because they could not be so big without the blessing and active support of the People’s Liberation Army. This is something everyone knows, except for the writers of the Wall Street Journal.

      The result is trade with China comes with a hidden cost. If you move your electronics making factory to China, they will steal your technology. They will also do things like bake spyware and back doors into networking gear so the the PLA can exploit US communications networks. That means the US has to spend billions in counter-espionage activities in order to prevent the Chinese from running off with all of our secrets. This is just one example of the hidden costs of trade with China….”

      Reply
      • DeadWeight

        p.s. –

        It’s sad, but Jack is correct inasmuch as some of the (well-reasoned) opinion on z-man’s site will cause the Apple Nazis and Google Hitlers in some of your workplace to at least get their ire up.

        Take precautions now, if you have not done so, to be able to continue to engage in free discourse and communication, through hardware and software-based means.

        Reply
        • hank chinaski

          lol, I’d sooner shitpost at the chans on the work pipe.

          Jack’s already been linked in thoughtcrime at vox and CH. That horse may be out of the barn.

          Is this the price we pay for ads?

          Reply
  2. Birju

    I don’t honestly see any country having the courage to take on China. If change will occur, it will be from within, but we’re 30 years from anyone there taking a brave stand.

    I feel even if the current president innately wanted to take them on be would be aggressively talked down by the establishment and maybe even his own daughter and son in law.

    Reply
    • DeadWeight

      The Trump and the Kushner family are ALL IN regarding economic dependence on China; do not deceive yourself. It’s factually provable.

      And this fact is not based on the typical MSM recitals, either.

      Reply
      • hank chinaski

        As detestable as being in bed with the Chinese is, I find the Saudis worse. Anything to save the petrodollar, I suppose.

        Reply
  3. ComfortablyNumb

    It’s troubling that this message isn’t registering with the American public. People either aren’t aware that we’re hurting ourselves, or they don’t care. Both are unacceptable. I can’t shake this feeling that there needs to be some kind of active disruption of these mechanisms that are dragging us down. I’m just not sure what that should look like.

    Reply
    • Athos

      People probably do not care. As in 0FG. They are probably too busy looking @ their screens or distracted with the latest, and incredibly relevant, media star scandal.

      Reply
  4. Dirty Dingus McGee

    About 4 1/2 years ago I went from my Crackberry to an iPhone 5. I wanted to stay with a Blackberry, but my carrier wasn’t carrying the then new touch screen that RIM had just came out with. After witnessing the problems my partner had with his Android, I decided against it. I liked that the Apple OS was less susceptible to virus’s than the Android. Am I happy with it? For me, it’s a tool for my job. I would say that about 85% of what I do on it is work related. The other 15% is visiting various websites. I don’t use social media, no facesnapinstatwit stuff ever, so that doesn’t interest me in the least. It’s adequate for my needs for what it is.
    That said, I’m not a fanboi by any stretch. I still have the 5 because it still serves my need. I have no need to drag a tablet sized lump around on my belt, because it’s the latest, greatest, bestest, evah. When it finally will no longer work for whatever reason, I’ll decide then what to replace it with. If I could, I would use my antique “bag phone”(bought in 1989), but they are not compatible anymore.On my laptop, I have the Windows OS(same as 90% of the world) and it’s adequate for what I do. I’m not real tech savvy so simple works good for me. It IS a pain however to have to use high dollar virus protection, anti spyware, ad and pop up blockers, cookie wipers, etc.
    Like Jack, I prefer to buy domestically manufactured goods. However, there is next to no USA made electronic goods, be it phones laptops or even a simple AM radio. According to some articles I’ve read, Foxconn is supposedly going to put some manufacturing plants in the US. IF that happens, there is a slight possibility that a phone or laptop MIGHT have some domestic content. Time will tell.

    Reply
  5. Opaddington

    I have to think that the Apple board is watching for a negative impact on US sales as a result of Cook’s activism. They’d probably tolerate a small negative effect because most, if not all, of them share his political views. However, if there are any serious repercussions he’ll be told to shut up, and shut up he will. Given his boot licking in China, he doesn’t strike me as the type to buck authority if his job is threatened.

    Reply
    • Baconator

      Erm, his activism isn’t extracurricular – it’s brand-building. People buy Apple products *because* of his public stands on social issues. Apple has like 7% of the laptop market (and nearly 0% of the corporate market) but probably 90% of the profits. That’s branding. And the Venn diagram of MacBook users and people with lefty social proclivities is nearly a circle, so that’s the audience for the brand.

      Jack is quite right that Apple does not walk its talk with respect to China. But I’m also willing to bet he’s never actually been to China to do business. Their flavor of government oppression – and please understand that I’m not *defending* them, just pointing out something that they point out to me – as is pretty sharply circumscribed to people who criticize the regime. With respect to everything else, the place is a polite version of anarchic Russia. They view *our* human-rights record as worse than theirs, and think that there would in fact be riots in Beijing if police there acted the way LAPD or Chicago cops act every single day.

      Reply
      • Opaddington

        If it’s brand building, then why did Jobs avoid public political posturing like the plague? He made it quite clear that taking political stands was idiotic. Are you saying Tim Cook has a firmer grasp on marketing and sales than Jobs did? Everyone buys cell phones. We’re not talking about organic kale from Whole Foods.

        I don’t know the political leanings of MacBook users. However, I’m quite certain that the Venn diagram of iPhone users is not a perfect circle of leftists. The iPhone is their cash cow and it’s purchased by people of all political stripes. I’m a member of the evil right wing conspiracy and I’ve owned every model starting with the iPhone 4. Pissing off half of your customers is a pretty crappy branding technique. It doesn’t make right wingers think, “ooh, how trendy!” It makes us think, “that Samsung phone looks pretty sweet.”

        Insulting your customers and selling less product….it’s the new branding!

        Reply
        • Baconator

          Jobs was against taking a stand on politics. But he absolutely took a stand on *culture* and *values*, and was certainly anti-conservative (not “liberal” as that term is currently understood on the Internet). And that was very directly how Apple built the brand.

          A few exhibits:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_(advertisement)

          Let’s take a look at the original “Think Different” ads, the big marketing splash of Jobs’ 2nd reign as CEO. What do you think he was trying to tell the world? They featured:
          – Jim Henson (hippie puppeteer and icon of 70s counterculture)
          – Richard Feynman (outspoken bisexual and libertine)
          – Maria Callas (who played the role of side piece to Jackie O’s marriage to Aristotle Onassis)
          – Miles Davis (basically the Snoop Dogg of his time)
          – Martha Graham (the person who invented the modern dance style that conservatives make fun of)
          – Ansel Adams (Nature photographer, legendary environmentalist and Board Member of the original Sierra Club)
          – Cesar Chavez (the most illegal of all illegal immigrants and legendary union organizer)
          – Rosa Parks (legendarily tired of white peoples’ bullshit)
          – Joan Baez (60’s hippie poster girl … and — fun fact — Jobs’ ex-girlfriend)

          So if you think Jobs wasn’t political, you haven’t been paying attention.

          Reply
          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            I always took those ads as Jobs using “Boomer cool” to brand his products. The same way Steve McQueen is overused now. I don’t think that most Apple owners could tell you why Miles Davis was “thinking different”. They just knew that he was black, and (birth of the) cool.

          • Opaddington

            You just provided a list comprised mostly of artists. Artistic types lean hard left. He used those people in ads to make his products appear cool. You cannot equate advertisements with sending a squad of Apple funded lawyers to the Supreme Court to argue that bakers should be forced to support gay marriage at the barrel of a gun.

  6. -Nate

    Apparently boots taste *very* good .

    I hate my iPhone S5 ~ if I’da know what a PIA it is to simply use as a ‘phone, text and camera (I _never_ go OnLine with it) I’da never bought the danged $200 POC .

    If/When it dies, I’ll buy anything but another apple product .

    -Nate

    Reply
  7. Jeff Zekas

    Jack, excellent, well written article. “why is Cook absolutely fierce about Trump but feeble about Chinese abuses?” Oh, and what about Ford Fusion production being moved to China? The Chinese will never have to fire a missile at the U.S. because they have already conquered us spiritually and economically.

    Reply
  8. Zykotec

    Outsourcing has happened, it’s not a reversable process. We gave away production to the lowest bidder. The american middle class only exist to design, market and buy overseas made product (as God intended it)
    You have been upgraded to Elois, electing an Umpaloompa isn’t going to make you Morlocks again.
    As for you poor ex-morlocks who have no purpose in life anymore, I know that back in the day the french upsized a cigar cutter design to help shorten rich people.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Oh, it’s absolutely reversible.

      The minute the dollar loses overseas support, we won’t be able to afford imports. We’re only the Eloi as long as the lights stay on. After that it’s back to the factory for everybody.

      Reply
    • Hogie roll

      We’ve got it all wrong. Currently the eloi work and produce but don’t procreate. The morlocks consume our production and reproduce.

      Reply
  9. Ronnie Schreiber

    If you’re in manufacturing, it’s almost impossible to avoid doing business with China. I may buy screws at the local industrial fastener supply but who knows where the screws were actually made?

    I use two “Orange Drop” capacitors in the Harmonicaster. They were orginated by Sprague but the capacitor brand has changed hands a few times since Orange Drops’ reputation was established by audio enthusiasts and guitarists. I just checked, Cornell Dubilier makes one of the caps in the USA and the other comes from China.

    Unless environmental regulations are in play, or more precisely, the lack thereof in China, I don’t understand why so much of the consumer electronics industry has moved to China. Electronics are one of the most automated manufacturing sectors. The printed circuit boards are made by robots. Humans just mount and connect them.

    A Chinese guitar amplifier combo likely has more labor in the cabinet than in the electronics.

    Reply
  10. DirtRoads

    It’s China or Mexico, pick your poison. Although I believe China is more of an existential threat to America. And they have been as long as I’ve been around (59 years).

    Reply

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