‘The China Cultural Clash’

Speaking of Ben Thompson, his column this week at Stratechery is so good:

“It” refers to the current imbroglio surrounding Daryl Morey, the General Manager for the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the latter’s dealings with China. The tweet, a reference to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” (a rather frequent occurrence). The Global Times, a Chinese government-run English-language newspaper, stated in an editorial:

Daryl Morey, general manager of the NBA team the Houston Rockets, has obviously gotten himself into trouble. He tweeted a photo saying “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” on Saturday while accompanying his team in Tokyo. The tweet soon set the team’s Chinese fans ablaze. It can be imagined how Morey’s tweet made them disappointed and furious. Shortly afterward, CCTV sports channel and Tencent sports channel both announced they would suspend broadcasting Rockets’ games. Some of the team’s Chinese sponsors and business partners also started to suspend cooperation with the Rockets.

There’s one rather glaring hole in this story of immediate outrage from Chinese fans over Morey’s tweet: Twitter is banned in China.

(This whole NBA/China story broke over the weekend, after Ben and I had recorded the new episode of my podcast — otherwise we’d have spent an hour on it, I’m sure.)

The gist of it is that 25 years ago, when the West opened trade relations with China, we expected our foundational values like freedom of speech, personal liberty, and democracy to spread to China.

Instead, the opposite is happening. China maintains strict control over what its people see on the Internet — the Great Firewall works. They ban our social networks where free speech reigns, but we accept and use their social networks, like TikTok, where content contrary to the Chinese Community Party line is suppressed.

Worse, multinational mega corporations like Apple and Disney are put in a bind — they must choose between speaking up for values such as the right to privacy and freedom of speech, or making money in the Chinese market. The Chinese government portrays its citizenry as having such oh-so-delicate sensibilities, that they simply can’t bear to hear an opinion with which they disagree — expressed on a social network banned in China.

This, one can rightly argue, is what we should expect, if we’re looking for leadership from for-profit corporations on this front. But in the meantime, we’re stuck with a president who promised Xi Jinping he’d remain quiet on the Hong Kong protests in exchange for a trade deal, despite protestors’ pleas for our support.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019