We shouldn’t suppose the NBA-China affair is something new or strange. In many ways, it was entirely predictable, right down to the simpering apologies and walk-backs. But we should understand that blow-ups like this are going to happen more frequently unless U.S. policymakers, American consumers, and major corporations work together to reconnect strategic national interests to economic activity.
There are two reasons for this. The first is growing Chinese aggression abroad and despotism at home, fueled by Beijing’s conviction that it should be the final arbiter of discourse about China and everything that comes within its orbit. The second is growing corporate obsequiousness to the Chinese state, fueled by ordinary greed.
Indeed, the fracas over Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting the Hong Kong protesters has demonstrated, yet again, that global firms like the NBA will bow and scrape before the Chinese Communist Party—and even enforce the party’s rules internationally—if it means retaining access to Chinese markets.
The NBA is no exception in this regard; the list of corporations willing to toe the Chinese line is quite long. After Mercedes-Benz innocuously quoted the Dalai Llama in a social media post last year, the auto company apologized for “wrong information” that “hurt the feelings of Chinese people”—language commonly used by Chinese officials to protest statements made by foreigners. (The NBA used similar language this week in a statement posted to the NBA’s Chinese-language account on Weibo that markedly differed from the league’s English-language statement.)
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—so much so that “South Park” dedicated an entire episode to it last week, which prompted China to scrub “South Park” from the Chinese internet.