OPINION / OBSERVER
Zuckerberg mimics politicians’ tune to fend off competition
Published: Jul 30, 2020 10:44 PM

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee during An Examination of Facebook and Its Impact on the Financial Services and Housing Sectors hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on Oct 23, 2019. Photo: Xinhua



In a prepared statement in advance of Wednesday's congressional hearing on tech companies' potential antitrust violations, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took Chinese companies and China as targets. He framed Facebook as a story of homegrown American success against a growing Chinese threat, warning that "China is building its own version of the internet focused on very different ideas, and they are exporting their vision to other countries." 

Although his testimony slightly deviated from the more assertive prepared statement, he stressed that Facebook stands for a set of basic principles that "are fundamental values for most of us [Americans], but not for everyone in the world, not for every company we compete with, or the countries they represent." His message: Facebook is an American company upholding American values against a growing Chinese threat. When questioned whether he believes the Chinese government was stealing technology from US companies, Zuckerberg said he thinks the problem is "well-documented." 

Wednesday's hearing was supposed to focus on antitrust. However, accusations of China have grabbed headlines as if it was a hearing on the "China threat." But this is not surprising. 

Zuckerberg hyped the "China threat" in defense of Facebook's monopoly over the past two decades. He used it to denounce rival social media giant TikTok, and to oppose calls for American tech companies to be scrutinized more vigorously.  

Given the adversarial relationship between Washington and Beijing, it's an argument that may have some appeal in Washington. It caters to the poisonous political atmosphere in Washington that has increasingly believed that Chinese companies pose an existential threat to the US in terms of values, technological superiority and national security.  

Labeling Chinese tech giant Huawei as a "national security threat," Washington has used politics to suppress the company, a formidable competitor of American tech companies. Now, it is targeting TikTok, a Chinese company that has operation in the US in accordance with the US laws. The US hooligan act that clamps down on Chinese companies under the pretext of a "security threat" has distorted some American companies' attitude toward competition. They have exaggerated the alleged threats Chinese competitors pose in values and ideology as an anti-competitive tactic to maintain their established market advantages. 

When faced with investigations on a virtual monopoly over the American market that may harm the future of American innovation, it's ridiculous for a leading US tech behemoth to parrot some politicians' tune to manipulate public opinion by hyping the "China threat." Do they really believe this could help solve their problems? Do they fear so much losing to their Chinese competitors?

Ironically, when Zuckerberg addressed Tsinghua University in Beijing five years ago, he praised "great Chinese companies" such as Alibaba and Xiaomi, and China's history as "a story of innovation." But now, he accuses China of stealing technology from the US. China's technological progress is built on China's own indigenous innovations. As American companies have devolved into groundlessly accusing China of technological theft, how can people believe that the US could maintain its leading technological position in the world? 


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