Attorney General William Barr gave a speech on Thursday condemning China for its actions at home and abroad and accusing Hollywood, Big Tech, and other U.S. companies of “kowtowing” to Beijing.
Barr, who has increasingly spoken about the national security threat posed by Chinese espionage and Chinese telecommunication groups such as Huawei, delivered remarks at the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum warning about the dangers posed by China’s global ambitions.
“If what happened in China stayed in China, that would all be bad enough. But instead of America changing China, China is leveraging its economic power to change America,” Barr said. “The [Chinese Communist Party] seeks to extend its influence around the world, including on American soil … All too often, for the sake of short-term profits, American companies have succumbed to that influence, even at the expense of freedom and openness in the United States. Sadly, examples of American business bowing to Beijing are legion.”
Barr pointed to Hollywood as a prime example.
“Hollywood actors, producers, and directors pride themselves on celebrating freedom and the human spirit,” he said. “And every year at the Academy Awards, Americans are lectured about how this country falls short of Hollywood’s ideals of social justice. But Hollywood now regularly censors its own movies to appease the Chinese Communist Party, the world’s most powerful violator of human rights. This censorship infects not only versions of movies that are released in China, but also many that are shown in American theaters to American audiences.”
Barr said that in the movie World War Z, a scene speculating that the zombie virus may have originated in China was reportedly removed and that in the blockbuster film Doctor Strange, the nationality of a character was switched from a Tibetan monk to a Celtic mystic. Barr didn’t mention that in Top Gun: Maverick, it appears the Taiwanese and Japanese flags and the USS Galveston patch on the back of Maverick’s jacket were removed, that Freddie Mercury’s bisexuality in 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody was censored for Chinese audiences, and that in the 2012 Red Dawn remake, the occupiers of the U.S. were switched from Chinese to North Koreans.
“But many more scripts likely never see the light of day because writers and producers know not to even test the limits. Chinese government censors don’t need to say a word because Hollywood is doing their work for them,” Barr said.
The SCRIPT Act introduced by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas would ban the federal government from helping with any film production that might engage in Chinese censorship.
“Hollywood is far from alone in kowtowing to the [People’s Republic of China],” Barr said. “America’s Big Tech companies have also allowed themselves to become pawns of Chinese influence.”
“American companies such as Cisco helped the Communist Party build the ‘Great Firewall of China,’ the world’s most sophisticated system for internet surveillance and censorship,” Barr said. “Over the years, corporations such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Apple have shown themselves all too willing to collaborate with the CCP.”
Barr criticized Apple for removing the news app Quartz from its online store in China after the government complained about its coverage of Hong Kong and for removing apps for virtual private networks that helped dodge Chinese censorship. He also critiqued Apple’s decision to move some iCloud data servers to China.
In a deviation from his prepared remarks, the attorney general also said that Apple refused to help the Justice Department unlock the iPhone belonging to Saudi military officer and al Qaeda-linked Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, who shot and killed three U.S. Navy sailors in Pensacola, Florida, in December 2019.
“Do you think when Apple sells phones in China that Apple phones in China are impervious to penetration by Chinese authorities?” Barr said. “They wouldn’t be sold if they were impervious from Chinese authorities … That’s the double standard that has been emerging among American tech companies.”
Barr pointed to Disney, which proudly boosted the U.S. campaign during World War II, and lamented Disney’s current coziness with China, including a $5.8 billion Disney park in Shanghai with 300 staff who are members of the Communist Party.
“American companies must understand the stakes,” Barr said. “The Chinese Communist Party thinks in terms of decades and centuries, while we tend to focus on the next quarterly earnings report.”
Barr also said he hoped companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Zoom, and LinkedIn would all continue to refuse to provide information to Chinese law enforcement following the imposition of China’s “national security” law on Hong Kong, saying that “if they stand together, they will provide a worthy example for other American companies in resisting the Chinese Communist Party’s corrupt and dictatorial rule.”
The attorney general said, “The Chinese Communist Party also seeks to infiltrate, censor, or co-opt American academic and research institutions.”
The DOJ began its China Initiative in 2018 in response to the espionage threat, and the U.S. has arrested and charged many academics and researchers, including Harvard’s Charles Lieber.
“In a globalized world, American corporations and universities alike may view themselves as global citizens rather than American institutions,” Barr said. “A world marching to the beat of Communist China’s drums will not be a hospitable one for institutions that depend on free markets, free trade, or the free exchange of ideas.”
“The CCP has launched an orchestrated campaign across all of its many tentacles in Chinese government and society to exploit the openness of our institutions in order to destroy them,” Barr said, adding that the U.S. has overcome such challenges before and arguing that “if we rekindle our love and devotion for our country and each other, I am confident that we, the American people, American government, and American business together can do it again.”
National security adviser Robert O’Brien and FBI Director Christopher Wray have given similar Chinacentric speeches in recent weeks, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to make one in the coming days.