Increasingly, China doesn’t even need to raise an eyebrow for global businesses to blink: American companies are engaged in proactive appeasement. In the new animated movie “Abominable,” released by DreamWorks, a subsidiary of Comcast, one scene includes a map of China with a boundary line encompassing most of the South China Sea. The United States does not recognize that line; neither do the other nations that border the sea, including Vietnam, which pulled the film from theaters. ESPN, a Disney subsidiary, displayed a similar map of China — showing what is known as the “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea — on a recent broadcast.

Comcast and Disney are, of course, free to advocate for the Chinese Communist Party’s position, and against the American and global consensus, in the continuing dispute over China’s international boundaries. But by all appearances, the decisions were both less principled and more pernicious: The companies acquiesced in China’s view of the world simply because that was the path of least resistance…

Companies face particular pressure on the internet because deference to physical geography is no longer a viable standard. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” has lost its meaning. On the internet, one is always at home and always in Rome, too. But there is, or should be, a critical point of difference between American and Chinese internet businesses. Corporations are the creatures of a particular state, however much their executives prefer to think of their operations as multinational. American companies choose to operate under the laws of the United States and to reap the benefits of life in the United States — and they ought to be held accountable for upholding the values of the United States. American companies should feel a responsibility for maintaining the right to free expression in the internet spaces they create and operate. Otherwise, they risk becoming the enforcers of a corporate regime of global censorship that takes its marching orders from Xi Jinping.