It used to be that the Communist Party focused on censoring free speech primarily inside of China. In recent years, though, China’s authoritarian government has tried to censor speech beyond its borders, inside liberal democracies, when speech contradicts the party’s line on highly sensitive political issues, such as the status of Tibet and Taiwan. It’s part of the party’s grand strategy to change the way the world talks about China.
The Chinese government has been so effective at intimidating Western businesses on this front that sometimes companies do the party’s work for it. That’s what happened in London this summer at an obscure soccer tournament modeled on the World Cup. The teams were drawn from a hodgepodge of minority peoples, isolated territories and would-be nations, including Tibet.
Some potential corporate sponsors were queasy.
“There were inquiries made as to whether we would consider removing Tibet from the competition,” said Paul Watson, commercial director for the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, or CONIFA, which ran the tournament. Watson spoke with one potential sponsor who was apologetic but direct.
“Look, I took this to my boss,” Watson recalled the sponsor telling him. “It’s Tibet. Can you get them out of there? I’m really sorry. It’s a terrible thing to ask. We love what you do, but would you remove Tibet?”