People in China know how to read web sites and use email services banned in the country. They use a technology called a virtual private network, which masks their location. It’s a fact of life in China, one of the many understood digital annoyances for a Westerner traveling there, among bringing a wiped laptop and “burner” mobile phone on the assumption some arm of Chinese cybersecurity will steal your data. (In 2017, when Fortune journalists traveled to Guangzhou for the Fortune Global Forum, an event celebrating international commerce in China, Fortune’s IT department issued us loaner laptops and phones. This is common practice for big American businesses.)
It caught my eye, then, over the weekend, when The New York Times quoted a Chinese national living in the United States who says she’ll continue to use threatened-to-be-banned WeChat, come what may, but that she’ll likely use a VPN to do so.
Think about that for a moment. The U.S. will force Internet users to use the same tactics as those used to go around Chinese censors because the U.S. is adopting Chinese principles of blocking apps it doesn’t like. (A federal judge over the weekend temporarily stayed the Trump administration’s arbitrary ban against WeChat.)
At the risk of repeating myself, it is an upside-down world. The U.S. is copying Chinese Internet policies. In forcing a sale of TikTok that isn’t a sale at all, the U.S. president is shifting a commercial contract from one American company, Google, to another, Oracle. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board rightly labels this “corporate cronyism that will damage the U.S. government’s credibility and reputation for free-market rules.”
Meantime, the caudillo’s favored businesspeople promise 25,000 new jobs “over time,” a number undoubtedly snatched from midair. It calls to mind a promise from Alibaba’s Jack Ma that his e-commerce company would create a million U.S. jobs—a figure that never was serious and belatedly was retracted.
The Trump administration picks winners and losers. The world’s leading democracy abandons free markets and due process, not for national security reasons but for show. And craven businesspeople cower lest they upset the man behind the curtain.
Fortune’s 2020 Change the World list, our sixth, stresses the important point that no business succeeds alone. Collaboration among companies, even among rivals, shapes many of the inspiring stories in this package—in a Scandinavian effort to make “green” steel, in the campaign to close America’s racial wealth gap, and, above all, in the worldwide race for a COVID-19 vaccine. In the face of unprecedented collective challenges, only cooperation can move the needle.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.