Morey’s tweet even rose to the exalted level of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where spokesman Geng Shuang adopted the tone of a reproachful parent. “The NBA has been in cooperation with China for many years,” he said at a briefing Tuesday. “It knows clearly in its heart what to say and what to do.”
And this is what China Central Television intoned after Adam Silver made a relatively bland statement that (finally) acknowledged Morey’s right to his own opinion: “We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression. We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”
All this because of a tweet?
China’s reaction to Morey’s tweet is lamentable and at odds with China’s status as a global superpower. Why should China care what a guy in Houston says about Hong Kong? Morey spent years trying to beat the Golden State Warriors and failed. Why fret about his views on global issues?
But the sad truth is that as China rises, instead of embracing a superpower mindset and growing a thicker skin, it is becoming increasingly more sensitive to perceived slights — all while it fosters a thin-skinned, resentful nationalism among its people.
I don’t deny the righteous anger of Chinese netizens who demanded a boycott on the NBA in the first place. But let’s be frank: The Chinese government is responsible for nurturing the atmosphere in which the sole coin of political discourse in China is a nasty nationalism intent on throwing a conniption at the slightest perceived provocation. And all of this from the country with the second largest economy in the world, with real (not Houston) rockets that can reach the United States.
Newly minted Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, who has made billions in China as a co-founder of Internet unicorn Alibaba, tried to explain China’s overreaction in a post on Facebook, by essentially repurposing Chinese government talking points. Tsai went back into China’s painful history in the 19th century, when Western imperialists, including the British, took chunks of China as colonies, including Hong Kong.
But Tsai’s measured tone raises questions. First, at what point will China’s rulers let the 19th century go? Communist China’s founder Mao Zedong clearly did so 70 years ago when he announced that China’s people had “stood up.” Mao was so confident that China had moved past that difficult period that he actually refused to demand reparations from Japan, which had invaded and occupied China starting in the 1930s.
So why is China’s government obsessing about that history again now? Is it worried that nothing else will glue the nation together, other than hateful nationalism?
And second, in Tsai’s post he referred to the months-long demonstrations in Hong Kong as a “separatist movement.” Really? For sure, there are radicals among the demonstrators who want Hong Kong to be independent, but they are clearly in the minority. A far greater majority just want China to abide by its international obligations and allow a greater measure of democracy in Hong Kong. They want the Hong Kong government to be responsible first to Hong Kong’s people and not simply to carry water for the mandarins in Beijing. That’s what Morey’s tweet was about. And what’s wrong with that?