There has been recent criticism of US business leaders who give in to pressure from the Chinese government. JP Morgan’s CEO recently apologized for making an innocuous joke about the Chinese Communist Party. Here’s another example of a controversial statement:

The billionaire investor Ray Dalio likened China’s move to banish private citizens from the public eye to that of a “strict parent.”

And here’s the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Musk’s response to the pressure has been to become a high-profile cheerleader of China’s ruling Communist Party, in sharp contrast to his renegade persona in the U.S., where he has clashed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and mocked President Biden in tweets, once calling him a labor union sock puppet.

“The economic prosperity that China has achieved is truly amazing, especially in infrastructure!” Mr. Musk tweeted when the party celebrated its centenary on July 1.

Actually, this isn’t a particularly good example.  Musk’s comment is technically false; China is less than half as rich as other East Asia economies such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore.  But let’s assume that Musk meant something like:

The economic growth that China has achieved since 1980 is truly amazing, especially in infrastructure!

Then I would agree with him.  Indeed I’ve made similar comments.  But this would not represent praise of the CCP; indeed China is much poorer than many of its neighbors precisely because it has been ruled by the CCP since 1949.  

Business leaders remind me of tenured college professors unfairly attacked by woke fanatics.  Both will occasionally react shamefully when false accusations are made against them, responding with abject apologies that are obviously insincere.  You might argue that this behavior is understandable, as they have a lot to lose.  Of course it’s understandable, if it were not understandable then it would not be shameful.  It is understandable because they are clearly placing personal advantage ahead of ethical values, and that’s also why it is shameful. I might do the same if under sufficiently intense pressure.  If I did, I would feel ashamed.

Public criticism of shameful behavior is appropriate when the gains from insincere apologies are modest relative to the person’s wealth or position.  How much more money does a billionaire need?  How much more job security does a tenured professor in the US need?  On the other hand, can you blame a Chinese professor for issuing a forced apology during the Chinese Cultural Revolution?  Or even in today’s China?  What is the alternative?

PS.  Don’t view this post as a blanket endorsement of everything Elon Musk has said.  (Some of his tweets are questionable, to put it mildly.)  While I don’t agree with how the WSJ interpreted the aforementioned comment, Musk may well have been excessively supportive of the CCP in other comments.