Amazon worked closely with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to bolster the sales and reviews of a book penned by Xi Jinping. According to a report made by Reuters, when the tech giant decided two years ago to market a book compiling speeches and thoughts of the Chinese dictator, the CCP ordered Amazon to prohibit any consumer ratings to be displayed in their China website, a request to which Jeff Bezos’ company quickly acquiesced.
According to the article, the CCP made the request after a few users posted negative comments on Xi’s book, with a source saying that the Beijing government had an issue “with anything below five stars,” the Chinese website of Amazon also prohibits anybody from posting any comments about the book.
Reuters revealed that Amazon issued an internal document in 2018, explaining the company’s coordinated effort to appease the Chinese government by supporting the CCP’s propaganda efforts and ensuring their political and economic dominance within the country. According to the documents cited, the company has devised a strategic campaign with the cooperation of the Chinese propaganda structure to launch a portal in their U.S. website promoting Chinese literature in America, including many pro-CCP books. The report reveals that this portal (called ChinaBooks) is “the key element to safeguard” the company from Chinese licensing issues.
Another internal document obtained by Reuters shows that the ChinaBooks project is one of “Amazon China’s main commitment to assist China in ‘Going Abroad,’ an umbrella project that aims to promote Chinese culture to the world.” The article says that while the project continues despite having failed financially since the goal of the venture is not to sell books but is “a soft power campaign to basically put the books out there and just have it be visible.”
Amazon sells a book denying the Uyghur genocide, but it bans conservative books
Reuters reveals that among the books published under the ChinaBooks project were some pieces that push Beijing’s propaganda. While some of those books are dedicated to praising the figure of Xi Jinping or the Chinese government’s response to COVID, there is a book (with no reviews or comments) authored by the state owned-media company Xinhua that paints a rosy picture of life in Xinjiang, a region where the CCP has developed a coordinated campaign to suppress the Muslim Uyghur minority. The Uyghurs face atrocities that have been classified as a genocide by the United States government.
This is not the first time that Amazon has come under fire for selling denialist literature since back in 2017 the tech giant was heavily criticized after it was reported that the company sold dozens of books denying the Holocaust. It was only after a slew of criticisms that the company took that it decided to remove the books from sale.
Amazon has an internal policy that prohibits the sale of content the company determines is offensive or hateful, however, the way their policy is implemented is uneven at best. Amazon has refused to implement this policy regarding a book sponsored by the Chinese state which actively minimizes the suffering of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, it has dragged its feet to ban anti-Semitic pieces, but it was quick to ban a slew of books authored by a conservative author that talked about transgender issues.
The Amazon standard on hate or unacceptable speech seems to vary heavily depending on whom the authors are. The company is apparently okay with selling a book denying the ongoing atrocities in Xinjiang, has no problem with allowing anti-Semitic content on their website but implements a zero-tolerance policy with American conservative books.
Big industries cozy relationships with the CCP
The Reuters report is not the first time that a big company has been embroiled in aiding Chinese censors or having very questionable links to the human rights abuses in Xinjiang. A few months ago Apple was criticized for taking a popular Quran app off their app store in China after a request by the CCP, the NFL recently released a world map outlining their expansion plans painting Taiwan as a part of China, and a few years ago American Airlines decided to change Taiwan’s description as a country in order to appease Beijing.
Furthermore, big American corporations have been accused of profiting from forced Uyghur labor, with companies like Nike and Apple have produced millions of their products in factories where Uyghur workers were forced out of their homes. In fact, many of these companies lobbied against the recently passed bill prohibiting the importation of goods that could have used slave labor from Xinjiang.
American corporations will surely be facing more scrutiny about their links to the political apparatus of the Chinese Communist Party, especially as the United States and the world become more vigilant over the constant Human Rights violations that occur in Xinjiang.