Contributor Post Created with Sketch. NBA’s China Troubles Show Hard Choices Forced Upon American Firms

 

One way to pitch a Hollywood screenplay is by combining two existing works. “Think of it as Wolverine meets Lincoln.” Apparently this actually happens. Anyway, the descriptive technique also pops up elsewhere. The geopolitical tangle — economic, military, ideological — that is China can be expressed as “the Soviet Union meets 1980s Japan.”

Dealing with such a multidimensional challenge is difficult, as the NBA just found out. Its apologetic stance toward China over a Houston Rocket official’s pro-democracy tweet — “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” — has brought Americans together as few if any recent issues have. The bipartisan outrage over that apology parallels the growing bipartisan consensus that US foreign policy toward China needs a significant course correction.

And American business might be forced to change its ways, too, even if all the tariffs go away. The Hong Kong protests increasingly look like a dystopian film with an authoritarian Goliath vs. democratic David storyline that’s easy for Americans to follow. So, too, the detention of China’s Uighur minority inside reeducation camps is starting to resemble a rerun of the worst bits of the 20th century. It’s one thing for American firms to outsource manufacturing and develop markets in non-democratic China that seems to be following the same road as South Korea toward liberal democracy — but quite another when the endgame might be a totalitarian surveillance state.

Yes, talk of an NBA boycott is less about China’s human rights abuses over there than attempts to limit free speech over here (limits that can take a variety of forms). But the backlash might grow. This incident along with the new focus on China as a threat could lead to efforts at cultural boycott. Maybe public pressure will force the NBA to abandon its training camp in the same region where the Uighur population is being rounded up. Maybe Hollywood actors and directors will stop attending red-carpet premieres in Shanghai.

Back in the 1980s, such cultural boycotts helped undermine and delegitimize South Africa’s racist apartheid government. Human rights are intrinsically important, but also a powerful potential lever against Chinese ambitions. No one wants to be a pariah nation — especially not one with global commercial ambitions. Of course, China is a lot bigger and far more deeply intertwined in the global economy than South Africa was. Still, maybe the lack of Chinese democracy and human rights is something Washington should talk and care about a lot more.

Published in Economics, Sports
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There are 17 comments.

  1. Stad Thatcher

    James Pethokoukis: Maybe public pressure will force the NBA to abandon its training camp in the same region where the Uighur population is being rounded up. Maybe Hollywood actors and directors will stop attending red-carpet premieres in Shanghai.

    The NBA has a training camp in China? Why? I can understand Hollywood going over there. Actors and actresses have supported totalitarian regimes for years with visits (think Cuba, Nicaragua, etc.).

    Ordinary Americans don’t like butt kissers, and any business who bows to Peking’s demands (I refuse to use the PC name) runs the risk of a loss of business. Not all, but hopefully enough to hurt . . .

    • #1
    • October 8, 2019, at 12:41 PM PST
    • 1 like
  2. James Gawron Thatcher

    JimP,

    Recently on Ricochet, there was a discussion of Deontological Morality & Ethics. Although this was pretty much treated as an exercise in extreme abstraction, perhaps the China thing is showing us a concrete reality that requires the Deontological.

    The Chinese market is huge and tempting. However, it is increasingly clear that the moral hazards in dealing with China have become very dangerous for our own sense of justice. The Deontological simply means acting properly no matter the outcome. Although both in economics & power politics, realpolitik can’t be easily ignored, I think we must consider the necessity of making some Deontological bright lines that if crossed will not be accepted. We will openly condemn these actions and we will change policy over it if necessary.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #2
    • October 8, 2019, at 1:10 PM PST
    • Like
  3. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    FYI, Columbo authored a fine post on the Member Feed called The Cowardly NBA earlier today (here), beating the good Mr. Pethokoukis to the punch by about 7 hours.

    Mr. Pethokoukis generally takes a strongly free trade position. His post proposes cultural boycotts, and hints that Washington “should talk and care . . . a lot more” about the issue, without mentioning the T word. (Tariff, not Trouble in River City.) We discuss this at length at Columbo’s post.

    • #3
    • October 8, 2019, at 1:28 PM PST
    • Like
  4. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    JimP,

    Recently on Ricochet, there was a discussion of Deontological Morality & Ethics. Although this was pretty much treated as an exercise in extreme abstraction, perhaps the China thing is showing us a concrete reality that requires the Deontological.

    The Chinese market is huge and tempting. However, it is increasingly clear that the moral hazards in dealing with China have become very dangerous for our own sense of justice. The Deontological simply means acting properly no matter the outcome. Although both in economics & power politics, realpolitik can’t be easily ignored, I think we must consider the necessity of making some Deontological bright lines that if crossed will not be accepted. We will openly condemn these actions and we will change policy over it if necessary.

    Regards,

    Jim

    Jim, I’m going to disagree about this one. It made sense to side with Stalin against Hitler, at the time. It made sense for Nixon to split China from the Soviets, at the time.

    FDR reportedly said: “it is permitted in times of grave danger to walk with the devil until you have crossed the bridge.” Some disagree, but I think that FDR had this one right. It can be difficult to decide when the danger is grave enough, and when the bridge is actually crossed.

    • #4
    • October 8, 2019, at 1:32 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    How should the NBA have responded.

    From what I’ve seen, the Chinese pressure was directed solely at the Houston Rockets.

    I suggest that the NBA should have responded by saying that if the Rockets suffered financially from this Chinese action, all of the other teams would share their revenue with the Rockets. Maybe with a #StandWithHouston.

    • #5
    • October 8, 2019, at 1:39 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  6. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    JimP,

    Recently on Ricochet, there was a discussion of Deontological Morality & Ethics. Although this was pretty much treated as an exercise in extreme abstraction, perhaps the China thing is showing us a concrete reality that requires the Deontological.

    The Chinese market is huge and tempting. However, it is increasingly clear that the moral hazards in dealing with China have become very dangerous for our own sense of justice. The Deontological simply means acting properly no matter the outcome. Although both in economics & power politics, realpolitik can’t be easily ignored, I think we must consider the necessity of making some Deontological bright lines that if crossed will not be accepted. We will openly condemn these actions and we will change policy over it if necessary.

    Regards,

    Jim

    The Chinese market is going to be out of reach of western firms. IF they continually demand that local investors (AKA Chinese Communist Party cronies) own a large share of the firm, the western firms will be left with nothing, when the Chinese subsidiaries go “independent” and start exporting their own designs back to the west at cut rate prices. The western parent companies will be bankrupted.

    I think the NBA and other entertainment companies are risking their futures in China by kowtowing to the Communist government. Someday China will be free, and the populace will be very resentful and suspicious of westerners who collaborated. 

    • #6
    • October 8, 2019, at 1:44 PM PST
    • Like
  7. Stad Thatcher

    Personally, I think we should cut off all trade with China – zero, zip, nada. The one and only thing Jimmy Carter did worth a damn was bring the issue of human rights into foreign policy. Not that he was any good at it, but I’ve always felt we should stay away from doing business with ***holes . . .

    • #7
    • October 8, 2019, at 2:01 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  8. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Trump shows the way but he is the idiot. Go figure.

    • #8
    • October 8, 2019, at 5:08 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. DonG Coolidge

    Another big company, Blizzard Games (ATVI) stepped in it today. One of their hot shot gamers out of Hong Kong wore a protest shirt during an interview and the Blizzard dropped the hammer. He got ghosted, he got his prize winnings revoked, and the interviewers were fired. John Wick shows more mercy! Back in the USA, Twitch chat rooms are buzzing or so says my son. The gaming community generally doesn’t like wokeness and politics injected into their world, but probably won’t actually *do* anything.

    • #9
    • October 8, 2019, at 8:53 PM PST
    • 1 like
  10. James Lileks Contributor

    DonG (View Comment):
    Back in the USA, Twitch chat rooms are buzzing or so says my son. The gaming community generally doesn’t like wokeness and politics injected into their world, but probably won’t actually *do* anything.

    Part of the gaming community absolutely insists on wokeness in their games, and they are as dreary as you might imagine. But making a disapproving tweet about the HK protests is a sideshow to the important issues of ensuring there is a pansexual option when you create your character in an RPG, or forming cancel brigades when a game developer says two characters are just friends, not lovers. 

    • #10
    • October 8, 2019, at 10:06 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  11. I Walton Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    Personally, I think we should cut off all trade with China – zero, zip, nada. The one and only thing Jimmy Carter did worth a damn was bring the issue of human rights into foreign policy. Not that he was any good at it, but I’ve always felt we should stay away from doing business with ***holes . . .

    We may have to at least in some way. They are just too massive, productive, and controlled. In the long term their top down control won’t work to their economic advantage, at least as we mean “work”, but it will work to their political, military advantage. We did well when they didn’t play in global markets and we may have to go back there but we have a lot of work to do with the rest of the world, especially the third world. We’re not good at that game either. 

    • #11
    • October 9, 2019, at 12:04 AM PST
    • 1 like
  12. Stad Thatcher

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    DonG (View Comment):
    Back in the USA, Twitch chat rooms are buzzing or so says my son. The gaming community generally doesn’t like wokeness and politics injected into their world, but probably won’t actually *do* anything.

    Part of the gaming community absolutely insists on wokeness in their games, and they are as dreary as you might imagine. But making a disapproving tweet about the HK protests is a sideshow to the important issues of ensuring there is a pansexual option when you create your character in an RPG, or forming cancel brigades when a game developer says two characters are just friends, not lovers.

    The computer game Assassin’s Creed Odyssey contains this statement in the opening screenshots:

    “Inspired by historical events and characters, this work of fiction was designed, developed, and produced by a multicultural team of various beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities.”

    I doubt there’s any gamer out there who wouldn’t play a great game unless it was created by a team such as this. As for me, I don’t care one bit. The game is awesome regardless of the team’s composition . . .

    • #12
    • October 9, 2019, at 7:53 AM PST
    • Like
  13. Theodoric of Freiberg Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    Personally, I think we should cut off all trade with China – zero, zip, nada. The one and only thing Jimmy Carter did worth a damn was bring the issue of human rights into foreign policy. Not that he was any good at it, but I’ve always felt we should stay away from doing business with ***holes . . .

    That would be great. The problem is, at this point in our history, a vast number of our products are now made in China. Go to any store and look at the “Made in…..” labels. It is astonishing. Talk about a national security issue.

    If you decide to cross a bridge with the devil, don’t be surprised when you don’t make it to the other side.

    • #13
    • October 9, 2019, at 10:06 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  14. Gary McVey Contributor

    For once I have to say, don’t overrate culture. It’s easy to say “How about the Hollywood celebrities?”, because nearly everyone on Ricochet hates them. I don’t see James saying the same about American brands like Boeing, Buick, Microsoft, McKenzie Consulting, Archer Daniels Midland, or any of the gigabuck Wall Streeters that are his allies. 

     

    • #14
    • October 9, 2019, at 11:11 AM PST
    • Like
  15. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    I work for a company that sells to many countries. We got a new email from the Department of Commerce today with a “banned entities” list of Chinese companies with whom we are forbidden to do business. I looked, and as of now, none is our customer. That may change going forward, and we may end up losing a lot of revenue.

    • #15
    • October 9, 2019, at 5:00 PM PST
    • Like
  16. James Gawron Thatcher

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Jim, I’m going to disagree about this one. It made sense to side with Stalin against Hitler, at the time. It made sense for Nixon to split China from the Soviets, at the time.

    FDR reportedly said: “it is permitted in times of grave danger to walk with the devil until you have crossed the bridge.” Some disagree, but I think that FDR had this one right. It can be difficult to decide when the danger is grave enough, and when the bridge is actually crossed.

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    The Chinese market is going to be out of reach of western firms. IF they continually demand that local investors (AKA Chinese Communist Party cronies) own a large share of the firm, the western firms will be left with nothing, when the Chinese subsidiaries go “independent” and start exporting their own designs back to the west at cut rate prices. The western parent companies will be bankrupted.

    I think the NBA and other entertainment companies are risking their futures in China by kowtowing to the Communist government. Someday China will be free, and the populace will be very resentful and suspicious of westerners who collaborated.

    I love these two comments and that’s why I’m responding to both at once. Jerry is making the classic realpolitik argument that you’d better look before you leap. He doesn’t think we are forced to upset the apple cart because this hasn’t reached a tipping point where it is a threat to us directly. Meanwhile, Occupant is responding that although Deontological arguments may not be based on consequences, there may be consequences to not making the Deontological argument and putting China on the defensive. Even if the realpolitik calculation says stand pat, Occupant is suggesting that there really is no such option. The Chinese are not going to play fair with anybody and it will cost us more and more.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #16
    • October 9, 2019, at 8:08 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  17. Stad Thatcher

    Theodoric of Freiberg (View Comment):
    The problem is, at this point in our history, a vast number of our products are now made in China.

    And that’s what I’m saying. Too many of our products are made by a country whose government wants to destroy us.

    • #17
    • October 13, 2019, at 5:57 AM PST
    • Like