U.S. com­pa­nies strug­gle with prin­ci­ples vs. Chi­nese might

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The NBA is hardly the only U.S. busi­ness fac­ing fi­nan­cial pres­sure to stay mum on China’s hu­man rights abuses, but its predica­ment might have drawn more sym­pa­thy were it not for the league’s his­tory of so­cial jus­tice ac­tivism.

Three years ago, NBA Com­mis­sioner Adam Sil­ver pulled the All-Star Game out of Char­lotte, North Carolina, over the state’s bath­room bill. The league halted use of the word “owner,” call­ing it racially in­sen­si­tive, and big-name coaches such as Steve Kerr of the Golden State War­riors and Gregg Popovich of the San An­to­nio Spurs have rou­tinely blasted Pres­i­dent Trump.

But since China’s crack­down on the NBA af­ter Houston Rock­ets Gen­eral Man­ager Daryl Morey posted a tweet sup­port­ing democ­racy in Hong Kong, the league has been less than out­spo­ken. Rock­ets star James Har­den tweeted an apol­ogy — to China. Mr. Kerr told re­porters he didn’t have an opin­ion on the mat­ter and de­clined to com­ment.

Mr. Trump weighed in Wed­nes­day, ac­cus­ing Mr. Kerr and Mr. Popovich of “pan­der­ing to China” while de­clin­ing to of­fer ad­vice to the league. “The NBA knows what they are do­ing,” he said.

Ja­son Whit­lock, right-tilt­ing host of “Speak for Your­self” on Fox Sports, said, “The NBA is stran­gling on its own hypocrisy.

“They branded them­selves as the so­cial jus­tice league … [but] you’re not so­cial jus­tice ac­tivists;

you’re busi­ness peo­ple. Be­cause when China tells you to shut the hell up, ev­ery­body shuts the hell up,” he said.

While the NBA has drawn the spot­light this week, the league’s troubles in China are hardly unique. They mir­ror the dif­fi­cul­ties faced by other Western cor­po­ra­tions seek­ing to cash in on China’s bil­lion-dol­lar re­tail mar­ket, sec­ond only to the U.S. mar­ket, as they learn that do­ing busi­ness with the eas­ily of­fended Com­mu­nist Party of China of­ten means park­ing your con­vic­tions at the door.

“This is per­va­sive across our econ­omy, and the com­pa­nies usu­ally don’t speak out,” said Hud­son In­sti­tute se­nior fel­low Robert Spald­ing. “It’s usu­ally not public. But ob­vi­ously, the NBA’s a very public or­ga­ni­za­tion and re­ally can’t es­cape it.”

China’s pen­chant for cen­sor­ship has height­ened amid global support for the thou­sands of pro­test­ers tak­ing to the streets of Hong Kong, of­ten leav­ing com­pa­nies do­ing busi­ness in China with a choice be­tween grow­ing their bot­tom line and stand­ing up for free­dom of speech.

“Quite frankly, they’re in con­flict,” said Mr. Spald­ing. “That’s the prob­lem for the lead­er­ship of these com­pa­nies: They have a fidu­ciary re­spon­si­bil­ity to max­i­mize profit, and the Chi­nese are ba­si­cally de­stroy­ing that. It re­ally forces the com­pa­nies to be­tray the prin­ci­ples and val­ues of a free and demo­cratic so­ci­ety.”

He pointed to the ho­tel chain Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional, which fired its so­cial me­dia man­ager last year af­ter he “liked” a post listing Ti­bet as a sep­a­rate coun­try and the Shang­hai Mu­nic­i­pal Tourism Ad­min­is­tra­tion called for the com­pany to apol­o­gize and “se­ri­ously deal with the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble,” as re­ported by The Wall Street Jour­nal.

This week, Cal­i­for­nia-based Ac­tivi­sion Bl­iz­zard stripped gamer Chung Ng Wai of his ti­tle and pro­fes­sional win­nings in the Asia-Pa­cific Grand­mas­ter tour­na­ment af­ter he ap­peared at a post-vic­tory press con­fer­ence in a gas mask like those worn by pro­test­ers and shouted, “Lib­er­ate Hong Kong!”

Posh jew­eler Tif­fany & Co. deleted an image of a Chi­nese model cov­er­ing her eye — a sym­bol of the Hong Kong up­ris­ing since a pro­tester was hit with a po­lice bean­bag in her right eye — even though the com­pany said the photo was taken in May and was “in no way in­tended to be a po­lit­i­cal state­ment.”

Mr. Sil­ver, who was in Shang­hai on a pre­vi­ously planned visit dur­ing the breach, was cred­ited for tak­ing a stronger free speech stance Tues­day af­ter the league came un­der fire for its ini­tial state­ment say­ing Mr. Morey’s com­ments “deeply of­fended many of our friends and fans in China, which is re­gret­table.”

“I do know there are con­se­quences from free­dom of speech; we will have to live with those con­se­quences,” Mr. Sil­ver said at a Tues­day press con­fer­ence.

Mr. Popovich waded into the fray Wed­nes­day, prais­ing Mr. Sil­ver for his “courage” and call­ing him “a very pro­gres­sive leader” with­out di­rectly men­tion­ing China.

That left an open­ing for Mr. Trump, who said Mr. Kerr was “shak­ing” and “couldn’t an­swer the ques­tion” and ac­cused the coaches of kow­tow­ing to China.

“I watch the way that Kerr and Popovich and some of the oth­ers were pan­der­ing to China, and yet to our own coun­try, it’s like they don’t re­spect it,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s like they don’t re­spect it. I said, ‘What a dif­fer­ence — isn’t it sad?’ It’s very sad. To me, it’s very sad.”

Anger with the NBA also is unit­ing the right and left in Congress as a bi­par­ti­san group of eight House and Se­nate mem­bers — in­clud­ing Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, New York Democrat; Sen. Ron Wy­den, Ore­gon Democrat; Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Re­pub­li­can; and Sen. Ben Sasse, Ne­braska Re­pub­li­can — wrote to the league de­mand­ing that it scale back its op­er­a­tions in China.

In the let­ter posted Wed­nes­day night, the law­mak­ers con­demned the league’s re­sponse to the Rock­ets man­ager and said it should, among other things, “sus­pend NBA ac­tiv­i­ties in China un­til gov­ern­ment­con­trolled broad­cast­ers and gov­ern­ment­con­trolled com­mer­cial spon­sors end their boy­cott of NBA ac­tiv­i­ties and the se­lec­tive treat­ment of the Houston Rock­ets” and “reeval­u­ate the NBA’s train­ing camp in Xin­jiang.”

The ten­sion has spilled into the NBA pre­sea­son. Demon­stra­tors from a hu­man rights group called the Vic­tims of Com­mu­nism Me­mo­rial Foun­da­tion protested at a Washington Wizards pre­sea­son game Wed­nes­day night in the U.S. against the Guangzhou Loong Lions from China. But the league and/or its teams seem to be sid­ing with China in the U.S. too.

When the Chi­nese team played Tues­day in Philadel­phia, two 76ers fans were kicked out of the game for caus­ing a dis­rup­tion that the fans told re­porters con­sisted of support for the Hong Kong protests. At the Wizards game, fans wear­ing “Free Hong Kong” T-shirts had a large protest sign con­fis­cated.

Travis We­ber, vice pres­i­dent for pol­icy and gov­ern­ment af­fairs at the con­ser­va­tive Family Re­search Coun­cil, said the NBA’s re­sponse re­vealed a dou­ble stan­dard.

“We see cor­po­rate ac­tivism on is­sues where it’s palat­able in elite cir­cles to act along so­cially lib­eral lines, yet on other is­sues where they can’t so eas­ily stand up, they seem them ex­pos­ing their dou­ble stan­dard,” Mr. We­ber said.

While the NBA is try­ing to grow its brand in China, where the league is in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in a coun­try with an es­ti­mated 300 mil­lion recre­ational bas­ket­ball play­ers, that’s not the prob­lem, the league’s crit­ics say.

“I un­der­stand busi­nesses are in busi­ness to make money,” Mr. We­ber said. “The prob­lem is not with them say­ing, ‘We’re go­ing to pur­sue growth and profit.’ The prob­lem is when they por­tray them­selves as so­cially en­light­ened ac­tors and then don’t act con­sis­tently with their prin­ci­ples.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

NBA Com­mis­sioner Adam Sil­ver took a dif­fer­ent stance af­ter apol­o­giz­ing to China for Houston Rock­ets Gen­eral Man­ager Daryl Morey’s tweet sup­port­ing democ­racy in Hong Kong.

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