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By now, you’ve probably heard about the tweet heard ‘round the world, or at least, the part of the world where Mandarin is spoken. The GM of the Houston Rockets basketball franchise wrote a tweet — since deleted — supporting the democracy protesters that have lit up Hong Kong these past few weeks.
As Eben Novy-Williams of Bloomberg wrote, “Through decades of painstaking deal-making, the NBA created a multibillion-dollar opportunity in China, the world’s second-largest economy. Now a single swiftly deleted tweet has put all that time and money in jeopardy.”
It’s a situation that’s becoming increasingly typical for American companies, technology or not. Apple pulled the Taiwanese flag emoji from keyboards in Hong Kong and Macau this weekend, lest it lose its lucrative, mostly-iPhone market that accounted for $10 billion in revenues in its last quarter. US-headquartered airliners had to change the pulldown options in their checkout flows to avoid mentioning Taiwan last year, lest they lose access to Chinese airspace.
One wonders what kind of a business empire can collapse with a single dropdown menu item?
Or a single emoji?
Or a single tweet?
Businesses are not supposed to be this brittle, but American companies continue to approach the mirage of the Chinese economy as if it is open for the taking, and that the American consumer (and their representatives in Washington) are going to continue to ignore the “authoritarian straddle” these companies have to undertake to appease Beijing while trying to not displease Washington.
Despite all evidence to the contrary that such a straddle is impossible though, they keep on coming.