Chinese people tell NBA: freedom of speech isn't an excuse to insult

China Plus Published: 2019-10-09 21:43:29
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Note: The following article is taken from a Chinese-language commentary by China Central Television.

The recent remarks made on Twitter by the general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, in support of the violent riots in Hong Kong triggered a huge row in China. The situation worsened when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended the remarks by claiming Morey was just exercising his "freedom of expression". But freedom of speech is not absolute: it does not include speech that challenges China's national sovereignty and social stability, and the argument provided by Morey and Silver reflects their contempt for the Chinese people.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during a welcome reception for the NBA Japan Games 2019 between the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets in Tokyo, Japan, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. [Photo: AP]

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during a welcome reception for the NBA Japan Games 2019 between the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets in Tokyo, Japan, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. [Photo: AP]

When addressing Morey's controversial tweet in Tokyo, Silver said "Values of equality, respect, and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA." But equality and respect should be reciprocal, and so far Morey hasn't shown respect for China's sovereignty and national dignity in his remarks on Hong Kong, and Silver failed to act in the spirit of equality by attempting to shield his NBA colleague from criticism.

Silver has also adopted a double standard when it comes to freedom of speech. The NBA commissioner said the league "will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees, and team owners say or will not say." But when the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, made racist remarks during an argument with his girlfriend in 2014, Sterling was banned for life from the NBA, fined 2.5 million U.S. dollars, and forced to sell the team. Silver himself announced the NBA's decision on the matter. But when it comes to an abuse of China's sovereignty, Silver has chosen to adopt another standard for freedom of speech.

As the first American sports league to tap into China's market, the NBA has enjoyed great success in China over the past three decades. It's also become a bridge for communication between the people in the two countries. But those ties are now at risk, as the league's local partners, including China Media Group's CCTV Sports channel and Tencent, suspend their cooperation with the NBA.

Rome was not built in a day, but it burned in one. If the NBA wants to repair its damaged relationship with China and its legions of basketball fans, it should reflect on the disrespect it has shown towards the country's sovereignty. As China's foreign ministry spokesperson pointed out on Tuesday, "Lacking knowledge of the minds and hearts of the Chinese people while trying to build communication and cooperation won't work."

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LU Xiankun Professor LU Xiankun is Managing Director of LEDECO Geneva and Associate Partner of IDEAS Centre Geneva. He is Emeritus Professor of China Institute for WTO Studies of the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) and Wuhan University (WHU) of China and visiting professor or senior research fellow of some other universities and think tanks in China and Europe. He also sits in management of some international business associations and companies, including as Senior Vice President of Shenzhen UEB Technology LTD., a leading e-commerce company of China. Previously, Mr. LU was senior official of Chinese Ministry of Commerce and senior diplomat posted in Europe, including in Geneva as Counsellor and Head of Division of the Permanent Mission of China to the WTO and in Brussels as Commercial Secretary of the Permanent Mission of China to the EU. Benjamin Cavender Benjamin Cavender is a Shanghai based consultant with more than 11 years of experience helping companies understand consumer behavior and develop go to market strategies for China. He is a frequent speaker on economic and consumer trends in China and is often featured on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Channel News Asia. Sara Hsu Sara Hsu is an associate professor from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a regular commentator on Chinese economy. Xu Qinduo Xu Qinduo is CRI's former chief correspondent to Washington DC, the United States. He works as the producer, host and commentator for TODAY, a flagship talk show on current affairs. Mr. Xu contributes regularly to English-language newspapers including Shenzhen Daily and Global Times as well as Chinese-language radio and TV services. Lin Shaowen A radio person, Mr. Lin Shaowen is strongly interested in international relations and Chinese politics. As China is quite often misunderstood in the rest of the world, he feels the need to better present the true picture of the country, the policies and meanings. So he talks a lot and is often seen debating. Then friends find a critical Lin Shaowen criticizing and criticized. George N. Tzogopoulos Dr George N. Tzogopoulos is an expert in media and politics/international relations as well as Chinese affairs. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre International de Européenne (CIFE) and Visiting Lecturer at the European Institute affiliated with it and is teaching international relations at the Department of Law of the Democritus University of Thrace. George is the author of two books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (IB TAURIS) and The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press (Ashgate) as well as the founder of, an institutional partner of CRI Greek. David Morris David Morris is the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commissioner in China, a former Australian diplomat and senior political adviser. Harvey Dzodin After a distinguished career in the US government and American media Dr. Harvey Dzodin is now a Beijing-based freelance columnist for several media outlets. While living in Beijing, he has published over 200 columns with an emphasis on arts, culture and the Belt & Road initiative. He is also a sought-after speaker and advisor in China and abroad. He currently serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization and Senior Advisor of Tsinghua University National Image Research Center specializing in city branding. Dr. Dzodin was a political appointee of President Jimmy Carter and served as lawyer to a presidential commission. Upon the nomination of the White House and the US State Department he served at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. He was Director and Vice President of the ABC Television in New York for more than two decades.