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    How Apple is going to achieve an evaluation exceeding 1Trillion US Dollar and what other US companies like AT&T and German Politicians should do to stop China’s foreign influence

    April 2019

    Apple is selling out. It’s not about the latest version on iPhone, but the huge cache of personal data – our personal data – that will be going directly to the largest, and one of the harshest authoritarian regimes in the world: The Communist Government of China.

    Given the Chinese government’s continuing the crackdown on human rights and freedom of speech under President Xi Jinping, as well as its deepening reach into Western democracies, Apples policies in China have far reaching implications for us all.

    Last summer, Apple announced that it would be partnering with Guizhou-Cloud Big Data, a state-owned company with Communist Party connections, to build Apple’s first data-storage center in China. Beginning on February 28, the iCloud content of Apple ID Users registered in China will be sent to and managed by Guizhou-Cloud Big Data. Customers registered in China, according to Apple’s new terms and conditions agreement for the country must “understand and agree that Apple and GCBD will have access to all data that you store on this service, including the right to share exchanges and disclose all user data, including content, to and between each other under applicable law.”

    In short, all personal user information stored on the iCloud including photos, videos, text files, contacts, calendars and iCloud email will be shared with Guizhou-Cloud Big Data and could be available to the Chinese authorities as well. Apple has said that G.C.B.D. will not have access to the personal data stored in its facility without Apple’s permission, but the new terms and conditions agreement appears to say the opposite.

    Under agreement, Apple seems to be absolving itself of responsibility for what the authorities may choose to do with personal data in G.C.B.D’s hands. Users who refuse Apple’s terms will be denied iCloud services. Users who accept run the risk of unwillingly provoking ire of the aggressive police state, resulting in deleted data or accounts, or harassment and imprisonment.

    This kind of partnership between an American company and a dictatorial regime is at odds with the image Apple has built as a company committed to privacy and a willingness to stand up to pressure from larger entities like the United States government. In a 2015 interview with NPR, the Apple chief executive Tim Cook emphasized that privacy “is a fundamental human right that people have” from “values point of view”, not “a commercial interest point of view.” Unfortunately, it now seems that such “values” are taking a back seat to profits and market value.

    In 2017, Apple also announced it was halting the sale of virtual private networks, apps that allow users inside China to get access to blocked content that is critical for activists and regular citizens. Iphones in China also no longer include some Western news outlets like the New York Times on the New App. Is this how Western companies and politicians should respond to dictatorial demands and arbitrary, unjust legal codes?

    The Chinese regime makes no apologies about its human rights violations and seems not to care whom it crushes in its quest for power and control, whether it is the Noble Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died last year in Chinese custody, or the many human rights lawyers and activists who have been detained and tortured in recent years.

    When dealing with the Chinese regime, Western companies and politicians should likewise not apologize for their commitment to the fundamental values-human rights, democracy, freedom of information, the rule of law that have allowed them to flourish.

    In 2000 for example, during a project I have been part of in Berlin Germany, China at that time bought a building by the Spree River in Berlin to use for a sprawling new embassy, and the staff would bully the clients of a woman-only gym that had a lease on the top floor with verbal insults and by making them undergo intimidating security checks.

    The bizarre practice was aimed, apparently, at forcing out the gym and securing use of the entire building for China. Today, the silver and mirror clad embassy sparkles by the spinach colored waters of the Spree, satellite dishes and antennas poking out in top.

    Having spent some intervening years reporting in Beijing as China vaulted from sixth place to second in global economic strength pushing down Germany from third to fourth. Returning back to Germany from China, I am struck by how Beijing is asserting its interests here in ways that threaten Germany’s core values, going well beyond intimidating gym-going woman.

    Germany must end Chinese meddling in its hard-earned democracy. Berlin has a stronger hand than many Germans appear to realize; China does not want to lose the good will and cooperation of this technologically strong and politically influential partner in the heart of Europe. Germany should be pushing back against Chinese interference with consistency and strength, just as China does when it feels its core interests are threatened. In recent months China has sent up a series of trial balloons to see and test how far it can stretch boundaries of German democracy. First and most easily spotted: challenges to free speech and political protest on German soil.

    Take an incident last November, when the Chinese halted a soccer match between their less than 20 team and TSV Schott Mainz in Southern Germany to protest a handful of Tibetans and German fans with Tibetan “snow lion” flags. China regards the flags as a sign of resistance to its rule in Tibet. The Chinese players returned to the field only after the flags were furled. (China lost 3-0)

    “Of course we stand by freedom of expression”, Ronny Zimmermann, a vice president of German soccer’s governing body, said afterward. “Our partner hasn’t really been able to get used to it yet.” A planned series of matches has been postponed.

    Germany has an excellent opportunity to defend democracy by cancelling them until China agrees to respect free speech and political pretest here.

    A month later, in December, the president of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency warned of “a broad attempt to infiltrate regional Parliaments, ministries and administrations” by Chinese agents to recruit German sources using fake social media accounts.

    In 2016, China’s ambassador to Germany told Mr. Brand, who was at the time chairman of the Bundestag’s human rights committee, that he could travel to China only if he canceled certain speaking engagements in Germany and deleted images and words from his official home page.

    Mr. Brand refused and was barred from China. He said his government did little in retaliation. German-Chinese cabinet consultations took place as scheduled in Beijing, with Chancellor Angela Merkel in attendance. It was a missed opportunity: Germany at that time should have skipped the talks as a warning to China to stop interfering in the affairs of elected German officials.

    Sure, people here are preoccupied with challenges closer to home, including hard-right populism in Central Europe, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, authoritarian Turkey, a million refugees from the Middle East, an unpredictable Donald Trump and Britain’s plan to leave the European Union.

    These are all of concern. Yet none has China‘s dangerous combination of economic muscle and political authoritarianism. China became Germany’s most important trading partner in 2016, outranking the United States and France. That year Germany exported about 92 Billon US Dollar in goods to China and imported about 114 Billion. Germany is dependent on exports and trends to run trade surpluses around the world its relationship with China is an exception.

    So what may finally focus German mind is “Made in China 2025”, Beijing’s ambitious plan to become the high tech manufacturing center of the world.

    The plan threatens Germany’s long term prosperity because it aims to substitute technologically advanced goods from Germany and other nations with cheaper Chinese goods, first at home, then throughout the world.

    When-if- China replaces German technology in electric powered vehicles, robotics and a host of other engineering, Germany may face tougher times.

    Other democracies, notably Australia, are beginning to realize they must push back against the efforts by the secrecy-ridden Communist Party to shape the global narrative about China in order to secure its control at home and abroad.

    Germany, as Europe’s central power and biggest economy, should monitor attempts to weaken its democratic system and publicize them so that citizens can educate and protect themselves. It should decline to sell to China economic assets of strategic value, deepen financial transparency in academic research and politics to prevent influence-buying by cash-rich China, and use its standing in Brussels to help smaller European Union member do the same. China will complain loudly but will get the message that Germany is serious about defending democracy.

    It’s worth remembering that West Germany banned its own Communist Party in 1956, fearful of the influenced of the Soviet Union. No one wants a return of Cold War mentalities, but that history offers a precedent for prohibiting activities by the Communist Party of China in Germany, for example within student associations, as a firm warning to Beijing. Germany expects students and businessmen from China to live in Germany with democratic values, as most already do, and leave authoritarianism at home.

    In another case, there’s a Chinese smart phone from Huawei that the United States does not want you to buy. It’s called Mate10 Pro, and it’s made by Huawei, a Chinese manufacturer that the American government has long suspected of committing espionage for China.

    The device, priced at 800 US Dollar, was supposed to make a big splash this year as the first high-end smart phone from Huawei in the United Stated. But AT&T, which intended to promote the Mate 10 as a rival to premium devices from Apples and Samsung, abruptly pulled out of the deal this month, appearing to bend pressure from Washington over security concerns. In my opinion, western politicians, companies, institutions and organizations that play an outsize role in society should not shirk their responsibility to uphold social justice.

    The Chinese people have been fighting for human rights for decades, including the rights to privacy, freedom of speech and democracy. Many have lost their lives doing so. Instead of aiding dictatorships and following a misguided path to the future, western companies should return to its core values and protect the rights of its users at home and abroad.