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NBA crisis in China is all about whether America and China can respect each other (3)

By Ren Yi (People's Daily Online)    20:21, October 10, 2019

III. The responses of the NBA, the Chinese government, the official media as well as the public

Daryl Morey, General Manager of the Houston Rockets of the NBA

Daryl Morey can't be really aware of what happened in Hong Kong. It is more than likely that he got his opinions based on the reports of the major media in Europe and America. In fact, he is only a mirror of the voice of the US.

Morey advocated freedom, which is in accord with the political principles of the US and will put him in the moral high ground back home.

Morey may actually believe what he said since he was ill-informed and ignorant due to the prejudiced reports of the American media.

He made offensive remarks about China, a country that is an important source of finance for the Houston Rockets. Sports should never have anything to do with politics. Unless authorized, Morey has no right to make political remarks on behalf of the basketball team and cause benefit losses to the team.

Of course, by making the remarks, he showed arrogance and little respect for China. And due to a lack of knowledge about China, he also underestimated the responses of the Chinese people.

Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner

Just like Morey, Silver's knowledge about the Hong Kong affair is only a duplicate of the words of the American media and politicians. Both of them misread the situation in Hong Kong, got blinded to the standpoint of China, and underestimated the responses of the Chinese people.

Since he made a statement on behalf of the NBA, his remark can no longer be treated as a personal one. It is fair enough to upgrade the fire against him.

Under the Sino-US trade frictions, the NBA will surely be influenced by the political winds in the US. It is its priority to please American society and safeguard its image back home.

As the leader of the commercial institution, Silver chose the worst words to defend the institution and failed to keep a balance between maintaining sound relations with China and conforming to the political environment in the US. Such a move will not attract more fans for the association from the US and will also harm its market in China.

As I already said, what Silver did has nothing to do with defending free speech. The essence of the issue lies in the respect between different countries and societies. Since China bought the products and services of the NBA, they are supposed to be business partners. China has every right to take actions to deal with the offensive remarks—this is by no means related to whether supporting or restricting free speech.

The responses of the Chinese government and official media

The remarks met strong reactions from China and heated discussions from the public.

As far as I'm concerned, China's reactions actually made it clear to the world its political bottom line, which is the country has no tolerance in terms of the Hong Kong affair and any issue related to sovereignty and territory. The truth is the Chinese people are very tolerant, except for the issue related to sovereignty, territory, and history.

Foreigners who do business in China need to know and respect what is unacceptable for the Chinese people instead of insulting the locals, just like what they should do in any other country.

Most other companies that do business in China have learned about the truth and made the right choices.

After all, the NBA is a commercial institution rather than a political one. It comes to China for business and make profits by bringing the sports activities to the Chinese people.

While the other companies remain silent on the Hong Kong affair, the NBA made some comments on the matter. Does this mean that it is more conscientious, perceptive, and courageous than other companies in the US as well as the entire world? No. It is just too ignorant to figure out the differences between the concepts of free speech, political correctness, and transnational interests.  

From a business perspective, if the NBA believes that the Chinese market is vital enough, it must be sensitive and compromise on issues that China considers to be important and must respect the feelings of the Chinese people. The initiative is in the NBA's own hands.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the response from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and CCTV's suspension of rebroadcasting related programs are straightforward sanctions.

It can make foreign companies and institutions know about China's taboos and bottom lines to a certain extent, but it cannot help them understand why China has these taboos and bottom lines and what’s the logic behind them (which is also the content of the open letter written by Joseph Tsai and it was criticized by the American media and netizens).

In the current environment of foreign public opinion it is very difficult for China to fully explain these issues to Americans and make them understand and respect such taboos and bottom lines. For now, it may have to be dealt with in such a crude fashion.

To conclude:

1) What we mean by freedom of speech and its boundaries are related to limiting public power, protecting vulnerable groups, and maintaining the functioning of society. These concepts need to be understood within a specific political context;

2) The "political correctness" and "political incorrectness," as we mentioned are broader concepts. Different countries, societies, and cultures have different categories and different connotations of these concepts. We cannot understand the political correctness (or incorrectness) in the US from a British perspective, nor can we comprehend the political correctness (or incorrectness) in China from an American's point of view.

3) When it comes to transnational, cross-social and cross-cultural events, it becomes a matter of international communication, and different standards are involved. It is no longer within the scope of freedom of speech.

To be more specific, when the government of Country A restricts its citizens' evaluation of a domestic event, it belongs to the category of restricting citizens' freedom of speech. Conversely, as the government of Country A and its citizens protest against the government of Country B and its citizens' comments of an event that occurred in Country A and take corresponding countermeasures and sanctions, it does not fall within the scope of restricting freedom of speech; instead, it is an issue of bilateral relations (including diplomatic relations and bilateral national relations) between Country A and Country B.

4) The Chinese people regard national sovereignty and territorial integrity as a fundamental political bottom line and not a matter of free speech. This is determined by China's modern history and values, and is definitely correct, just as anti-gun control is politically right in Texas.

5) China respects the political bottom lines and taboos in the US, and the US should also show respect to China’s. Their respective bottom lines and taboos are formed by history. The two countries should try to understand each other and respect each other.

The author is a graduate student in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School


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