October 9, 2019

NBA Kowtows to China

“An increasing number of U.S. lawmakers voiced anger on Monday over the NBA’s response to a Houston Rockets official’s tweet backing Hong Kong democracy protests… The National Basketball Association, which has built a huge following and burgeoning business in China, said in a statement it regretted the remarks by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. A Chinese-language version seemed to go further, with the league saying it was ‘extremely disappointed’ in Morey’s ‘inappropriate’ remarks.” Reuters

Both sides are critical of the NBA:

“The NBA is well within its rights to take advantage of its privilege as a member of the greatest and freest nation in human history to criticize our president and use capitalism to show support or disdain for other states policies. But to bend the knee to China's dictatorship, while protesters in Hong Kong brandish the American flag in their last stand for freedom, is beyond embarrassing. It's disgraceful and disgusting and pathetic…

“As you read this from the comfort of your capitalist country, China holds millions of its Muslim and minority citizens in concentration camps, subjecting its prisoners to organ harvesting, forced abortions, effective slavery, systemic violence, torture, and even murder. The nation forcibly seizes the biometric data of its own citizens and executes thousands every year — at least officially speaking. In the minute you've taken to read this article thus far, Chinese have aborted three unborn baby girls thanks to the dictatorship's gendered social policing. And of course, all of this ignores the utter and complete absence of civil liberties enjoyed by China's 1.4 billion people.”
Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner

“Of course, a lot of money is at stake… But that’s the point. China is attempting to enforce its version of the truth all around the world — bullying Chinese-language newspapers in Canada and the United States, patrolling the speech of its students abroad, demanding that foreign airlines and hotel chains wipe Taiwan off their maps. Some of its targets don’t have the wherewithal to stand up to this assault — which is why the NBA’s cravenness is so damaging. With all its financial muscle, its enormous popularity and its moral preening, if the NBA can cave so easily, who will resist the censorship of the Communist dictators?”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

Both sides also accuse the NBA of hypocrisy:

“You might assume that the wokest professional sports league — this is a business, after all, that pulled its all-star game out of Charlotte, N.C., in 2017 because of that state’s anti-transgender bathroom bill — would see human rights, representative democracy and freedom of conscience as core virtues. But you would be wrong…

“Is the issue of gender-neutral bathrooms really as morally urgent as a country that is, as Pete Buttigieg sharply put it, ‘using technology for the perfection of dictatorship?’ This is a worldview that encourages companies to take cost-free stands on the progressive cause of the moment and do absolutely nothing to uphold fundamental progressive values when doing so requires more sacrifice than the time it takes to write up a news release. A worldview that fails to force companies like the N.B.A., Apple, Google and Disney to account for the fact that they are serving as handmaidens to totalitarians is not one worth taking seriously.”
Bari Weiss, New York Times

“The NBA did not issue an apology when LeBron James said President Trump ‘doesn’t give a f---’ about Americans or when San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich called Trump a ‘soulless coward’… Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was not reprimanded for wearing a pro gun-control shirt to the arena last season reading ‘vote for our lives’... But expressing support for Hong Kong was a step too far, apparently. Opposing a country with forced abortions, organ harvesting, sweatshop labor, 1 million Muslims in concentration camps, a ‘social credit score’ tracking all of its citizens and no democratic elections for president is what makes the NBA queasy.”
Tom Joyce, Washington Examiner

Finally, many are calling for coordinated responses to push back against Chinese government demands:

“Public shaming of organizations such as the NBA helps raise the cost in the United States for its ignominy in China… The next step requires American businesses to coordinate responses to protect an organization when one of its affiliates voices an opinion that displeases Beijing. What’s bad for the NBA in China is bad for Google, too. The Trump administration has the political will — in May 2018, it called Beijing’s ordering U.S. airlines to change how they refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as ‘Orwellian nonsense’ — but lacks the discipline, attention and integrity… It falls to an American chamber of commerce or another nonprofit to teach the American business community that when an individual company doesn’t yield, it will afford them all more space to maneuver.”
Isaac Stone Fish, Washington Post

“This event is starkly clarifying. And it should give conservatives and progressives pause, because China’s model of imposing Xi Jinping thought is a direct and equal threat to us. If Chinese authoritarianism is able to spread into American life through corporate power, because corporations are set up to serve shareholders and have trouble thinking ethically beyond that, then perhaps it is the duty of the state to interrupt the exchange mechanism through which this corruption proceeds. If China is forcing American corporations to impose Xi Jinping thought, maybe it’s time to choose. No more basketball camps in the shadow of concentration camps… To hell with Chairman Xi, and to hell with every business venture that makes others too afraid to say likewise.”
Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“The owner of the Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, raced for the traditional refuge of international capitalists — the insistence that business can be segregated from political considerations…

“But it should be perfectly clear that playing basketball in China is political. Last year, the N.B.A. staged a game in South Africa for the explicit purpose of celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela. When the N.B.A. goes to China, that’s a statement, too. It means that the N.B.A. has weighed China’s human rights abuses against China’s potential as a source of revenue, and it has decided that it can live with state policies like the detention of hundreds of thousands of Chinese Muslims in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

Globalization is exporting Chinese authoritarianism rather than American democracy… First, simply on a technical level, it turns out that utopian globalization proponents were massively understating the feasibility of building a censored version of the internet. Second, they underrated the extent to which the entirety of the modern technology industry would end up looking like a massive surveillance machine… the same mechanisms that let internet ad brokers know I’ve been considering buying a new wallet and planning a family beach vacation in Mexico this coming winter can (and are) used by authoritarian regimes for political purposes… this isn’t how globalization was supposed to play out.”
Matthew Yglesias, Vox

The NBA should leave China… If Hong Kong is nonnegotiable, there’s nothing to discuss. The subject will become more sensitive, not less, if the Hong Kong police move from tear gas and rubber bullets to the routine use of live ammunition, or if the People’s Liberation Army moves in. Would the NBA muzzle its employees then?... Why not take the stand before it gets to that?... China may have 1.4 billion people and $4 billion worth of a basketball market, but only the NBA has NBA basketball. That is nonnegotiable in its own way, if the league is willing to stand up for itself.”
Tom Scocca, Slate

From the Right

“When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn came to the U.S. after years of captivity in the USSR, he professed amazement at how U.S. journalists who had exhibited cowardice when in the Soviet Union were posing as courageous lions of the press in the more congenial setting of the United States. I get the same feeling about the National Basketball Association… There’s a difference, though, between the journalists Solzhenitsyn held in contempt and the NBA executives. The journalists feared for their physical well being in the Soviet Union (we can’t all be Solzhenitsyn). The NBA execs are fearful only of losing money.”
Paul Mirengoff, Power Line Blog

“The list of corporations willing to toe the Chinese line is quite long… Marriott has fired staff who expressed support for Tibet. Delta apologized to China last year after listing Taiwan and Tibet as separate countries on its website. Versace apologized to China last month over a T-shirt that suggested Hong Kong and Macau aren’t part of China. (Versace not only stopped making the shirt, it destroyed all the ones it hadn’t sold.) Hollywood dares not make a big-budget film these days without clearing it with Chinese censors. Indeed, groveling before China has become commonplace in the corporate world…

“Given that reality, we need to rethink the relationship between economic power and national security, and consider adjusting national economic policy and corporate regulations accordingly.”
John Daniel Davidson, The Federalist

“It's easy for the NBA to be all sanctimonious about speech when it means a star player calling an unpopular American president a ‘bum.’ But when it comes to a general manager having the temerity to tweet ‘Fight for Freedom,’ suddenly [commissioner Adam] Silver cowers and a U.S. sports league has to impose totalitarian China's censorship rules on one of its executives. Since, clearly the NBA only values money, above all else, if you care about freedom and are incensed by this decision, then there is only one way to send a message to them — by denying them any of yours.”
Philip Klein, Washington Examiner

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