by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Professional networking site LinkedIn announced it will shut down its website in China because China’s hefty compliance requirements have created a “significantly more challenging operating environment.” Its parent company, Microsoft, said it would replace LinkedIn China with a job listings website without a social media element later this year.
LinkedIn’s retreat from China sends a warning to all Western companies that there is no middle ground between China’s authoritarian system and Western liberal democratic values. They must choose a side.
LinkedIn launched in China in 2014. It was the only Western social media site that operated openly in China, as Chinese authorities blocked other Western social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter. LinkedIn paid its admission price for the Chinese market by agreeing to adhere to the Chinese government’s rules, including censorship requirements.
Like all Western companies doing business in China, LinkedIn claimed that to comply with China’s law it had no choice but to censor content Chinese authorities object to. LinkedIn insisted the censorship was very light and in no way contradicted the company supporting free speech.
Still, LinkedIn’s censorship has caused great concern in the United States. …
… As China’s leader Xi Xinping seeks to return China to the Maoist socialist model and intensify his suppression of dissenting voices, he demands more censorship from Chinese and foreign companies. Early this year, Chinese regulators visited LinkedIn’s headquarters in China and gave the company 30 days to “clean up” its content. The company disclosed that it had to stop new member sign-ups in China for weeks to “ensure we remain in compliance with local law.”
LinkedIn learned the hard way that capitulation to Beijing is not a one-time action but a process. Once you bend the knee, Beijing will soon demand a better attitude and posture. Surrender leads to more surrender because Beijing always wants more.