Hurting their feelings

Imagine my shock that Joe Tsai, the Taiwanese-Canadian co-founder of Alibaba and owner of the Brooklyn Nets, is gravely displeased by a tweet posted (and quickly deleted) by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey:

Open letter to all NBA fans:

When I bought controlling interest in the Brooklyn Nets in September, I didn’t expect my first public communication with our fans would be to comment on something as politically charged and grossly misunderstood as the way hundreds of millions of Chinese NBA fans feel about what just happened.

By now you have heard that Chinese fans have reacted extremely negatively to a tweet put out by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey in support of protests in Hong Kong.

The Rockets, who by far had been the favorite team in China, are now effectively shut out of the Chinese market as fans abandon their love for the team, broadcasters refuse to air their games and Chinese corporates pull sponsorships in droves.

Fans in China are calling for an explanation – if they are not getting it from the Houston Rockets, then it is natural that they ask others associated with the NBA to express a view.

The NBA is a fan-first league. When hundreds of millions of fans are furious over an issue, the league, and anyone associated with the NBA, will have to pay attention. As a Governor of one of the 30 NBA teams, and a Chinese having spent a good part of my professional life in China, I need to speak up.

What is the problem with people freely expressing their opinion? This freedom is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues.

The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities.

Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China.

The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable.

A bit of historical perspective is important. In the mid-19thcentury, China fought two Opium Wars with the British, aided by the French, who forced through illegal trade of opium to China. A very weak Qing Dynasty government lost the wars and the result was the ceding of Hong Kong to the British as a colony.

The invasion of Chinese territories by foreign forces continued against a weak and defenseless Qing government, which precipitated in the Boxer Rebellion by Chinese peasants at the turn of the 20th century. In response, the Eight Nations Alliance – comprised of Japan, Russia, Britain, France, United States, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary – dispatched their forces to occupy Chinese territories in the name of humanitarian intervention. The foreign forces marched into the Chinese capital Peking (now called Beijing), defeated the peasant rebels and proceeded to loot and pillage the capital city.

In 1937, Japan invaded China by capturing Beijing, Shanghai and the then-Chinese capital Nanjing. Imperial Japanese troops committed mass murder and rape against the residents of Nanjing, resulting in several hundred thousand civilian deaths. The war of resistance by the Chinese against Japan ended after tens of millions of Chinese casualties, and only after America joined the war against Japan post-Pearl Harbor.

I am going into all of this because a student of history will understand that the Chinese psyche has heavy baggage when it comes to any threat, foreign or domestic, to carve up Chinese territories.

When the topic of any separatist movement comes up, Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this history of foreign occupation.

By now I hope you can begin to understand why the Daryl Morey tweet is so damaging to the relationship with our fans in China. I don’t know Daryl personally. I am sure he’s a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.

I hope to help the League to move on from this incident. I will continue to be an outspoken NBA Governor on issues that are important to China. I ask that our Chinese fans keep the faith in what the NBA and basketball can do to unite people from all over the world.

Sincerely,
Joe Tsai

Those of us who are familiar with China have received this history lesson before. Many times. And in a sense, the reaction of the fans is understandable. For other examples of this type of thing, see here, here, here and here.

Quote from the second link:

The Marriott International hotel chain has apologised and condemned “separatists” in China after the Beijing government shut down its website over an online questionnaire that suggested some Chinese regions were separate countries.

China’s Cyberspace Administration, the internet watchdog, said the hotelier had “seriously violated national laws and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” after a customer survey listed Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries. The regulator ordered Marriott’s website and booking applications to close for a week.

Note that phrase, “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”—another formulation that China watchers will be very familiar with—and compare to Tsai’s version:

When the topic of any separatist movement comes up, Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this history of foreign occupation. […] the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.

Shame. Anger. Hurt feelings. Separatism. Opium Wars. This is what American companies must now deal with because, well, 1.4 billion customers. (China is the NBA’s largest international market.)

Here we see the clash between two different, utterly incompatible value systems, each with its own virtues and flaws, which are now mutually entangled in a way that never before would have been possible due to globalization. The increasing preposterousness of the situation suggests that a great Untangling is coming, and soon.

They apparently haven’t watched Burn After Reading

I think it’s safe to dispense with the idea, being promulgated by certain parties, that US intelligence is behind the Hong Kong protests/riots. One would have to be painfully naive to rule out the possibility of the US exploiting a chaotic situation in Hong Kong for its own ends. Many elements of the US establishment have made it clear that they support the protests. But it stretches credulity to claim that the CIA is capable of orchestrating a massive, open-source protest movement in a large and sophisticated Asian city. Seriously, think about it. As the Big Lychee helpfully reminds us, this is the same agency that saw its entire network in China caught and executed over a two-year period (I posted about this total debacle here). And if the “black hand” of the US is responsible for the current ructions in Hong Kong, was it also responsible for the 2014 democracy movement and the massive 2003 protest against Basic Law Article 23? That seems highly implausible, to say the least.

A Cambridge academic weighs in:

Jeppe Mulich
@jmulich
[Thread] The idea that foreign forces, and specifically the CIA, is either behind or heavily involved in the #antiELAB protests in Hong Kong seems to endure, somehow. So here are a few thoughts on why that is silly.

The first problem with the “foreign black hands” thesis is the underlying assumption that Hongkongers are unable to organize these protests themselves. That somehow they need the guiding hand of foreigners to mobilize.

That there simply is not enough motivation to take to the streets without outsiders stirring up trouble or offering incentives to do so. This is the same logic behind every colonial administrator or crony politician in history

complaining that the only reason the ‘natives’ or the ‘masses’ are protesting their rule is due to foreign troublemakers. It is devaluing the capacity and motivation of ordinary people and, in this case, it’s orientalist to boot.

The second problem with the thesis is that it greatly overestimates the capabilities of the CIA. Don’t get me wrong. The CIA is good at some things, and a lot of those things are deeply troubling and unethical.

Those things include funneling arms and finances to established groups of insurgents or to foreign regimes; extrajudicial rendition and detention; gathering particular types of intelligence and sharing it with select allies;

killing people with drones (sometimes even the intended targets); and supporting the more kinetic divisions of the US forces during on-the-ground military operations. They’ve also had some success with ruining Castro’s cigars and funding abstract expressionist art.

But none of these things are happening or would be relevant in HK today. There is no established insurgent group for the CIA to co-opt. There are no arms being funneled in (protesters use umbrellas, hard hats, dishwashing detergent, and a few Molotovs!)

Langley wouldn’t begin to know who to talk to in this type of leaderless, highly networked movement (look at their failures during the Arab Spring). I doubt they even have enough people proficient in traditional Chinese (let alone Konglish) to keep up with LIHKG and Telegram.

So, the idea of foreign black hands driving HK protests puts too little faith in the capacity of Hongkongers and too much faith in the capacity of those foreign forces. And worse, it plays directly into Beijing’s attempt at discrediting what is in fact a bottom-up mass movement

That’ll learn ’em

Merlin Swire and Carrie Lam

Merlin Swire and Carrie Lam

This should do much to improve business confidence in Hong Kong as a transparent, law-governed, international financial center:

The forced public kowtow by Cathay Pacific and parent Swire Group is punishment for the airline’s nonchalance over its employees’ involvement in Hong Kong’s protest movement. […]

  • Group chairman Merlin Swire was summoned to Beijing and ordered to fire Cathay’s top two senior managers.
  • For additional humiliation, the news was broken by state CCTV before the company had a chance to make an announcement.
  • The share price plummeted (sending a message that China could ruin stockholders and perhaps enable second-largest owner state-owned Air China to buy up the remains).
  • The SCMP quotes a source as saying “Merlin had to save [ritually dismember] Cathay to save Swire.” Swire’s Mainland interests include property, Coca-Cola bottling and much more. The great and ancient hong had zero choice.
  • Top executives Rupert Hogg and Paul Loo have been banished from the Swire Group as a whole. Anyone else who hires them in future will be defying the Wrath of the Panda and will, in Beijing’s eyes, be ‘hostile to China’.
  • Hastily appointed replacement CEO Augustus Tang, the SCMP implies, has been chosen for his ethnicity, as a further sign of submission to the Han emperor.

Fascinating to see the iron fist poking through the velvet glove.

In the mood for war

Looks like world is gearing up for a major conflagration:

  • Israel is now striking Iranian military targets in Iraq (the first Israeli strike in Iraq since 1981).
  • China’s top official overseeing Hong Kong affairs has described the protests as a “color revolution” and apparently suggested that the PLA could be deployed.
  • India has decided to revoke the autonomous status of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, a move that Pakistan deems illegal.
  • “Turkey has threatened to re-open the floodgates of mass migration to Europe unless Turkish nationals are granted visa-free travel to the European Union.”

Better get to work on that home fallout shelter…

The status quo wins in Hong Kong

Good take from Bloomberg:

Hong Kong protesters have won a stunning victory. Saturday’s suspension of an extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China followed a day of violent clashes on Wednesday that saw the police use tear gas, pepper spray and baton charges. In 2014, the police also used tear gas against demonstrators, prompting an occupation that paralyzed the central business district for more than two months. Yet the government refused to budge, and the protest was eventually cleared by force. It’s worth asking what was different this time.

The most obvious answer is the role of business. Occupy Central had limited support from companies, and what sympathy there was clearly waned as the weeks wore on and the costs to business mounted. By contrast, opposition to the extradition bill has united various strands of Hong Kong society, from civic and trade groups to religious organizations and the legal profession. That’s even more evident after Sunday’s monumental protest, which organizers said drew almost 2 million people.

Even HSBC and Standard Chartered supported the protests by allowing flexible working hours for their staff.

There’s a message here for the protesters – and for Beijing. It’s easier to preserve the status quo than it is to enact change. The common link between 2014 and 2019 is that the status quo has won in both cases. It was also the result in 2003 – probably the closest direct parallel with today – when a proposed security law was shelved after an estimated 500,000 marched in opposition. This means protesters have a better chance of success when fighting to preserve freedoms that already exist than when agitating for change.

Francesco Sisci, characteristically, finds Hong Kong’s lack of faith disturbing:

The core issue is that Hong Kongers don’t trust Beijing’s promises, and this kind of mistrust could take years to rebuild.

Beijing also clearly doesn’t trust Hong Kong. The bill aimed to prevent the territory from becoming a Trojan horse to smuggle revolution and subversion into China. Beijing apparently realized it was not the way and the time to do it. But the mistrust lingers on – and it is mutual.

Why, pray tell, might Hong Kongers fail to trust Beijing? A clue is offered in the second paragraph:

The Hong Kong authorities have already suspended the controversial extradition bill that could have put anybody in the territory in danger of being forcibly brought under the clutches of the Beijing’s opaque judicial system, according to Western lawyers.

I see what you did there. Note the careful choice of words: the worst Sisci can say about China’s judicial system, typified by things like arbitrary, secret detention and torture, is that it is “opaque.” And the suggestion that only “Western lawyers” have concerns about this bill is highly misleading. After all, there is a reason Hong Kong has refused to sign an extradition agreement with mainland China in the 22 years since the territory’s return to the motherland.

Just ask these guys:

Hong Kong lawyers protest

Source: Fox News

Thousands of Hong Kong’s legal professionals, including top lawyers, took to the streets on Thursday in a silent protest against the government’s controversial extradition bill, ramping up pressure on officials to avoid rushing it through the legislature.

The march, which organisers claimed hit a record high of 3,000 people, was the fifth by the legal sector since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. It was also the first time lawyers had spoken out against a government proposal not directly involving judicial proceedings or a constitutional interpretation from Beijing.