'Brainwashing' projects take toll on China tech firms' image

March 08, 2019 12:46
The Xuexi Qiangguo mobile app has been launched to promote Xi Jinping Thought. Photo: Reuters

On New Year’s Day, China's officialdom launched a mobile app called Xuexi Qiangguo (學習強國), literally translated as “study to make the nation strong”, which is intended mainly for promoting Xi Jinping Thought.

Authorities have mandated that all Communist Party members, civil servants, employees of state-owned enterprises and public school teachers must download the app, while party cadres are required to use it on a daily basis.

This early Xuexi Qiangguo has surpassed Douyin and WeChat as the most downloaded free mobile app available on the Apple App Store in China.

Reuters, citing two sources from Alibaba Group, said the app was actually developed by a special projects team known as  “Y Projects Business Unit” of the company.

According to the report, the team is “largely unknown”, and is mainly responsible for “development projects outside the company”.

In the eyes of most Westerners, the Xuexi Qiangguo app only served to reinforce their bias against Chinese tech companies and strengthen their impression that the more advanced China’s information technologies have become, the more convenient it would be for Beijing to spy on its own people.

The Voice of America referred to Xuexi Qiangguo as the latest example of collaboration between the Chinese tech industry and the communist regime.

Chinese tech companies and manufacturers may have an advantage over their Western competitors in terms of the cost/performance ratio of their products and services.

However, when public relations and corporate image are taken into consideration, Chinese tech firms are definitely at a huge disadvantage.

Eager efforts by private mainland tech enterprises to develop “brain-washing apps” for Beijing would only further undermine their corporate image in the Western world.

If the Chinese government really wants to prevent mainland private enterprises from being subjected to unnecessary discrimination as they expand in the global market, it should stop dragging private tech firms into any state-sponsored “brainwashing engineering” program.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 25

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor