How Amazon Supports the China Propaganda Machine

China Books: China International Book Trading Corporation.

Amazon's compliance with the CCP 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. (Image: Amazon.com)

With time, several U.S. and European-origin companies have either quit China operations or scaled down their activities owing to an unfavorable political and human rights atmosphere. However, one exception is Amazon, the popular e-commerce giant which has managed to thrive in China.

In one example, Amazon was marketing a collection of President Xi Jinping’s speeches and writings on its Chinese website, China Books about two years ago, when Beijing delivered an edict that the American e-commerce giant must stop allowing any customer ratings and reviews in China.

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In one example, Amazon was marketing a collection of President Xi Jinping’s speeches and writings on its Chinese website, China Books about two years ago.
In one example, Amazon was marketing a collection of President Xi Jinping’s speeches and writings on its Chinese website, China Books about two years ago. (Image: via Amazon.com)

Amazon’s compliance with the CCP edicts

Amazon’s compliance with the CCP 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.

An internal 2018 Amazon briefing document that describes the company’s China business lays out several “Core Issues” the Seattle-based giant has faced in the country. Among them: “Ideological control and propaganda is the core of the toolkit for the communist party to achieve and maintain its success,” the document notes. “We are not making a judgment on whether it is right or wrong.”

China Books

Amazon has allied with a section of China’s propaganda and that explains why the section China books exist on its U.S. website. In a core element of this strategy, Amazon partnered with an arm of China’s propaganda apparatus to create a selling portal on the company’s U.S. site, Amazon.com – a project that came to be known as China Books.

The venture that has about 90,000 books is not a profit-making one. However, sales weren’t the goal, according to a former employee involved in the project. “It’s a high-level photo-op,” part of a “soft-power campaign to basically put the books out there and just have it be visible.”

The venture includes many apolitical titles like children’s bedtime stories and cookbooks. But it also contains several titles promoting the CCP agenda. This is being used by Amazon to appease Beijing and in turn, to grow its business in China.

Book 'Incredible Xinjiang: Stories of Passion and Heritage.'
The book – ‘Incredible Xinjiang: Stories of Passion and Heritage’ – discusses an online comedy show situated in the region. (Image: via Amazon.com)

One book extols life in Xinjiang, where United Nations experts have said China interned one million ethnic Uyghurs in a network of camps. The bookIncredible Xinjiang: Stories of Passion and Heritage – discusses an online comedy show situated in the region. The book quotes an actor who plays an 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 entitled 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.”

The state-owned firm that partners with Amazon on China Books is called China International Book Trading Corp. The company said on the alliance and the topic of its compliance with the CCP policies, it “complies with all applicable laws and regulations, wherever we operate, and China is no exception.”

Book 'Stories of Courage and Determination: Wuhan in Coronavirus Lockdown.'
One is entitled ‘Stories of Courage and Determination: Wuhan in Coronavirus Lockdown.’ Another begins with commentary from Xi. (Image: via Amazon.com)

IMDb reviews

Amazon has received numerous requests from Beijing to remove certain content on its other media outlets, including those that hurt the interest of the CCP. Amazon was pressured to remove negative reviews posted for its propaganda film Amazing China. The reviews were posted in IMDb, a site owned by Amazon.

The Cyberspace Administration of China, (CAC), asked Amazon in 2018 to take down a “link to China’s new blockbuster film Amazing China because of especially harsh user reviews.” The CAC is responsible for online security and content regulation.

The film is still on IMDb’s U.S. website but some of the negative reviews have been removed. The rating remains low though. Amazon said on the issue, “Some reviews submitted for the title Amazing China were removed because they violated our user review content guidelines, with the majority being off-topic. IMDb is not aware of any request from external parties (including the Chinese government) to do anything about reviews for this title.”

Poster for 'Amazing China' movie.
The film is still on IMDb’s U.S. website, but some of the negative reviews have been removed. (Image: via IMDb)

Amazon has become a powerful economic and political force in China

Beijing’s policies to foreign-origin companies have become way too stringent, forcing many foreign companies to shut down their operations in China. The latest two examples to shut down China operations are Yahoo and LinkedIn. They both cited reasons like increasingly difficult regulatory requirements and unfavorable business environments.

Amazon, by contrast, has grown into a powerful economic and political force in China in recent years, providing lucrative export opportunities to thousands of Chinese businesses while growing its own industry-leading cloud-services unit. Amazon Web Services, (AWS), is now one of the largest providers to Chinese companies globally.

In 2016, China began taking actions that made it more difficult for foreign cloud-computing firms, such as AWS, to operate in the country. The government began requiring cloud providers to hold a new license that only Chinese-owned companies could obtain.

The result was that Amazon took an unusual step for an American company; it handed off its cloud technology to local companies so it could keep operating in China.

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