Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Houston Rockets’ Faux Pas with China

Under a different title, it was first posted in Asia Times.

The latest bruhaha between the NBA and China once again proves that money rules over words and politics trumps economics. Many commentators and politicians, as usual, missed some of the finer points of a matter that should not have been enlarged into another thorn in the US China bilateral relations.

Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, is fully within his rights to tweet: “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Whether it was the wise thing to do is another matter.

Although it was quickly deleted from cyberspace, the tweet did not escape the notice of the millions of Internet users in China and immediately prompted a firestorm of criticism and objections from the Chinese, many professed to be die-hard fans of the Rockets.

Basically, their message to Morey was that you don’t understand the complexity of Hong Kong and you should keep your opinion to yourself. Obviously, the Chinese are not empathetic to the American idea of freedom of speech.

The management of NBA and Rockets have seen how indiscretions by name brands can cost them business in China, in one case leading to a full withdraw from the China market. They understood that unpopular reaction of the Chinese can quickly bite into the bottom line for American pro basketball. 

Thus, they quickly made Morey’s tweet go away. So far so good. Making money overrules Morey’s freedom of speech.

Then the US politicians from both parties jumped into the fray with their two cents worth. These fine leaders of democracy can’t tell the difference between the voice of the Chinese people and the national policy of China.

Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro’s tweet is representative of the bias in the American leadership. He said, “China is using its economic power to silence critics—even those in the U.S.” 

Note in his tweet, Castro said China not the Chinese people in China. Suddenly, the visceral reaction of the people has been become the repressive policy from Zhongnanhai. (Zhongnanhai is where the Chinese leaders go to work, Mr. Castro.)

Many Chinese businesses have begun to distance themselves from the Houston Rockets and even the NBA. The Chinese Basketball Association, led by Yao Ming, the Hall of Famer that played for the Rockets, has announced that they are suspending their relationship with the team.

The businesses in China and the CBA are responding to the freedom of speech of the millions of Chinese people. Just as NBA is trying to repair the economic damage to their presence in China, the Chinese establishment is safeguarding their relationship with their fan base by distancing from the NBA.

However, basketball is too big and important with the Chinese people and we can expect that the tempest will soon blow over and fans back to being fans.

For the US politicians to take cheap shots at China show a failure to understand China and the Chinese people, in the process making a molehill bigger and the bilateral divide wider.

It’s time to realize and accept that China will never be like America. In their own way they have their own values and own sense of personal freedom. So far as much as 90% of the populationapprove of the direction their government is moving as opposed to a mere 35% in the US.

The sooner America can accept China for what they are and not what the US would like them to be, the sooner both parties can begin to focus on where mutual ground and common interest exist and find ways to maximize benefits for both sides.

No comments: