Beijing Games: big sponsors caught in the crossfire of the China-US confrontation
After signing contracts worth more than a billion dollars with the International Olympic Committee, sponsors are under pressure over China’s human rights violations, caught between a loss of international standing and access to the Chinese market. In general, they prefer not to irritate Beijing.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – The 12 main international sponsors of the Beijing Winter Olympics are caught in the middle of the ongoing geopolitical confrontation between the United States and China.
They are trying to find a compromise that will not stain their corporate name whilst protecting their place in the lucrative Chinese market.
The 2022 Winter Olympic Games will open on 4 February amidst strict COVID-19 restrictions and with no foreign visitors.
Thirteen official sponsors have signed contracts worth more than one billion dollars with the International Olympic Committee; they include 12 foreign multinationals, plus China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba.
In a calculated strategy, Airbnb, Allianz, Atos, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Intel, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Toyota and Visa are limiting their Olympic advertising campaign in the West but investing massively in China.
In order to avoid too much attention, Olympic sponsors have also limited their advertising presence on social media.
The big groups have decided to ignore the diplomatic boycott of the Games by the United States and several of its allies, taken on humanitarian grounds. This weakens the US position, but also puts US multinationals in the crosshairs of the US Congress.
Instead, the big companies are urging the Biden administration to end the trade war unleashed against Beijing by his predecessor Trump.
International brands like Adidas or Nike know what it means to take a stand against the China. Last year, Beijing orchestrated a trade boycott of foreign companies that criticised its inhumane treatment of Xinjiang's Uighurs.
After H&M announced it would no longer buy cotton from the Chinese autonomous region, a boycott by Chinese consumers caused the Swedish group to lose US$ 74 million in just three months.
UN experts, academics and human rights organisations claim that Xinjiang cotton is produced by exploiting forced labour, ethnic Uyghur workers and members of other Turkic-speaking Muslim minorities.
Analysts note that US companies ultimately prefer to displease domestic public opinion and their own government, because irritating China has higher and more immediate costs. They buckle under to save their business.
China’s rulers have also imposed a code of conduct on Olympic athletes and staff from every delegation, but also on foreign companies involved in the event.
As the New York Times notes, contracts contain a clause requiring companies to avoid sensitive political issues.