The NBA’s swift apology to Chinese fans for a single tweet in support of Hong Kong protestors is part of a troubling trend: The Communist Party in Beijing is setting boundaries for what Americans more than 7,000 miles away are willing to say on sensitive issues, Axios Future co-author Erica Pandey writes.
- Why it matters: This isn't a covert operation. It's China using its market power to bully American companies and organizations in broad daylight — and muzzle free speech.
The big picture: U.S. companies are increasingly weighing in on social and political issues at home. But when it comes to China — in particular Hong Kong and mass detentions of Muslims in Xinjiang — they’re largely silent.
The latest: An image backing pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, tweeted and quickly deleted by Houston Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey, kicked off a firestorm in China.
- Both Morey and the NBA backtracked after offending Chinese fans. But the Chinese government, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) and multiple Chinese businesses severed ties with the Rockets, as Axios' Kendall Baker told you yesterday.
The state of play: This isn't the first time Beijing has squeezed an apology out of American business.
- Marriott apologized to China after Beijing shut down the hotel chain's website because it listed Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and Macau as separate countries. "We don’t support separatist groups that subvert the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China," the company said in a statement.
- All three big U.S. airlines — American, United and Delta — bent to China's will last summer and scrubbed references to Taiwan as its own country.
- The Gap — under threat of getting cut out of China — apologized for selling T-shirts with a map of China that didn't include Tibet or Taiwan. The company said its map was "incorrect."
- Beijing, which is Hollywood's biggest international market, has also pushed American studios to alter content in order to get into Chinese theaters.
🏀 Breaking: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement on the situation this morning ...
- "It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences."
- "However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way."