The US attorney general, William Barr, has assailed the Walt Disney Company and Hollywood studios, accusing them of “kowtowing” to the Chinese Communist party.
Barr’s allegations are part of a sustained diplomatic and public relations offensive by the Trump administration against Beijing, which the attorney general accused of engaging in “economic blitzkrieg – an aggressive, orchestrated, whole-of-government (indeed, whole-of-society) campaign to seize the commanding heights of the global economy and to surpass the United States as the world’s pre-eminent superpower”.
In a speech in Michigan, Barr railed against US corporate leaders whom he accused of abetting China’s hegemonic aims, particularly in the film industry. He said Disney had initially resisted Chinese pressure not to make the 1997 film Kundun, about the Dalai Lama and the Beijing’s annexation of Tibet.
“But that moment of courage wouldn’t last long,” Barr noted. China banned Disney films, leading to an apology from the company for making Kundun. The management then lobbied China to build a Disneyland in Shanghai, allowing Chinese officials to have a role in running the theme park.
Barr alleged the officials “display hammer-and-sickle insignia at their desks and attend party lectures during business hours”.
“If Disney and other American corporations continue to bow to Beijing, they risk undermining both their own future competitiveness and prosperity, as well as the classical liberal order that has allowed them to thrive,” Barr said.
The Disney company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations.
The attorney general also criticised Hollywood studios for bowing to Chinese pressure to tweak scripts in return for Chinese distribution, citing two cases in which the nationalities of characters were allegedly changed so as not to irritate Beijing.
Beijing objected to a virus in a zombie apocalypse film, World War Z, being shown as originating in China, and a mystic character, the “Ancient One” in the fantasy film, Dr Strange, was changed from being Tibetan to Celtic, to avoid upsetting China, Barr said.
The attorney general also lashed out at US technology companies including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple and Cisco, calling them “pawns of Chinese influence”.
“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,” he said.
Cisco rejected Barr’s allegation it had helped the Communist party build “the Great Firewall of China”, which Barr referred to as the world’s “most sophisticated system for Internet surveillance and censorship”.
In an emailed statement to the Guardian, Cisco said it “builds its products to global standards, and Cisco does not supply equipment to China that is customized in any way to facilitate blocking of access or surveillance of users.
“The products we supply to China are the same we provide worldwide, and we comply fully with all export control rules applicable to China including those related to human rights,” the company statement said.
Apple also responded to Barr’s criticism of its decision to transfer a portion of its iCloud data to servers in China, on the grounds that it would make it easier for Beijing to conduct electronic surveillance.
Apple told CNBC it was committed to cybersecurity and “strong encryption across our devices and servers”.