Internal memos alongside insiders from Amazon.com have revealed the company’s concerted effort to appease the Chinese Communist Party – including by partnering with state propaganda operatives and scrubbing web reviews critical of the regime.
Notably, the e-commerce giant submitted to a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) demand that it stop allowing negative customer ratings on a book containing a collection of leader Xi Jinping’s speeches and writings.
“I think the issue was anything under five stars,” noted a company insider, who detailed how Amazon caved to Beijing’s demands.
Currently, on the Chinese site Amazon.cn, the government-published book has no customer reviews, ratings, nor a working comments section.
“Amazon’s compliance with the Chinese government edict, which has not been reported before, is part of a deeper, decade-long effort by the company to win favor in Beijing to protect and grow its business in one of the world’s largest marketplaces,” notes Reuters.
An internal briefing from 2018 describes several “Core Issues” the company has faced while operating in China, including “ideological control and propaganda is the core of the toolkit for the communist party to achieve and maintain its success.” “We are not making judgement on whether it is right or wrong,” the document added.
One of Amazon’s primary strategies to cozy up to the Chinese Communist Party was partnering with a propaganda arm of the regime for a venture dubbed “China Books.” The partnership was described as a “key element to safeguard” Amazon’s relationship with Beijing, according to the internal memo.
Several titles published under the China Books initiative were designed explicitly to amplify Chinese Communist Party propaganda and fake narratives about issues including the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and the origins of COVID-19.
As Reuters reports:
One book extols life in Xinjiang, where United Nations experts have said China interned one million ethnic Uyghurs in a network of camps. The book – “Incredible Xinjiang: Stories of Passion and Heritage” – discusses an online comedy show situated in the region. The book quotes an actor who plays a Uyghur “country bumpkin” saying that ethnicity is “not a problem” there. That echoes the position of Beijing, which has denied mistreating minority groups.
Some books portray China’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, in heroic terms. One is titled “Stories of Courage and Determination: Wuhan in Coronavirus Lockdown.” Another begins with commentary from Xi: “Our success to date has once again demonstrated the strengths of CPC (the Communist Party of China) leadership and Chinese socialism.
China Books, according to a former Amazon executive, appeared to serve as the company’s way “to get what we wanted on Kindle and other things,” in reference to the Chinese Communist Party not granting the company full license to operate the online reading service in China.
“It was a wink and a nod,” the source added.
“Both China Books and Kindle Chinese eBook Store are Amazon China’s main commitment to assist China in ‘Going Abroad,’ an umbrella project that aims to promote Chinese culture to the world,” an internal company memo added.