Why Is China Cracking Down on Tech Firms?

China recently changed its rules regarding digital payment and Internet services. The global community sees this regulatory shift as a problem for tech firms, although the government calls it a “tightening” of the local anti-monopoly guidelines.

The news rules essentially block a company from forcing sellers to choose between the leading online providers for specific needs. Before the regulatory change, this process was considered a common practice in the country.

Experts see the guidelines aimed at Alipay, WeChat Pay, Taobao, and Alibaba.

Isn’t It a Good Thing to Stop Monopolies?

When we think about monopolies, we’re looking at the business structure from a capitalist viewpoint. If one organization can set the prices, market conditions, and access for goods or services because they’re the only provider, it limits competition and innovation.

The socialist, communist government in China uses the opposite end of a mixed economy. Although there are capitalist elements to the business world, the government holds a stake in virtually all significant businesses

China sees itself in the same battle against tech companies that some conservative and liberal groups feel is happening in the United States. The only difference is that the Chinese government has the authority for immediate intervention, like when it ordered Jack Ma to scale back his expansion plans for an Alibaba subsidiary.

What set off this issue in the first place? For many outside observers, it was the criticism that Ma leveled against the Chinese government.

What Does This Effort Mean to Everyone Else?

At the moment, the rules and regulatory changes are designed to create pressure on Chinese tech firms to comply with government wishes.

The issue could come to a head in the next few months as business leaders come into conflict with political desires.

With as much control as the tech giants have in China, their information assets could trigger the government’s mood changes. Political leaders recognize this, and they are moving to stop it.

These firms aren’t backing down. With more hiring happening in legal and compliance areas, expect battlelines to be drawn soon.

Why Freedom of Speech in China is Not a Right

Americans see the presence of freedom of speech in society as a right. In China, this approach to life is considered a privilege.

Chinese authorities see limitations on the freedom of expression as being a way to monitor potentially problematic social issues. Although the government does tolerate some criticism, the right to offer opinions freely only exists in specific categories of people.

That means you must be in a particular class, a “free speech elite,” to have the right to express yourself in China. Even with that opportunity, it can only happen within a government-controlled forum.

Most of the people who are considered part of that class are the senior party and government leaders and those with their patronage. Some academics and journalists receive limited access to this privilege.

What Rights do Ordinary Citizens Have?

An ordinary citizen who doesn’t fit into any of those groups does not have any freedom of political expression in China. Although frustrations and criticism can be expressed in private, anything that’s said or published publicly would most likely result in prosecution for subversion.

Chinese officials say that anyone can publish works in the country, but it is the freedom to submit their piece only. If the government-operated commissions or media don’t want to take the work, then there is no way to legally exercise their right. The government says that these individuals can enjoy their work by themselves or give copies to their family and friends. 

Some individuals and groups who don’t receive government authorization to publish still manage to get periodicals and books printed on a small scale. This process requires subterfuge and often violates Chinese law.

How Harsh Are the Chinese Laws?

The People’s Daily, which is the official newspaper of the Communist Party in China, reported that a court in the Anhui province sentenced two men to prison for the unlawful operation of a business.

The two men were only identified by the names of Yu and He. They received prison terms of seven and nine years respectively. Their crime was the publication of love poems to the general public without obtaining authorization from the government first.

Some citizens can post to bulletin boards and forums to exercise their publication “rights,” but these online mechanisms are still tightly controlled by the government. All posts are carefully and continuously monitored, and anything deemed to be inappropriate is immediately removed.