In the second half of the 20th century, few political events were more impactful than President Richard Nixon’s visit to China to open up trade relations.
Writing in Foreign Affairs in 1967, Nixon drew the broad outlines of his ideas to end heavy-handed tactics with countries like China and rely more on soft diplomacies like trade and cultural exchange. The theory, simply put, was that if you exposed these countries to American forms of commerce, freedom, and culture, they would adopt more American values over time.
Nixon’s ideas have largely made up the strategies of every president since him with regard to China. President Bill Clinton reaffirmed Nixon’s methods in the 1990s, and most presidents thus far have agreed with that approach. Even President Donald Trump’s tariffs have mostly focused on the economic impact, ignoring the broader cultural issues with expanded trade with and influence from the Chinese.
It’s a noble goal, and one that appeals to the better angels of our conscience. And while I still believe it’s in the best interests of the United States to continue trying to export as much of our ideals of freedom and democracy to China, I do have to question now: Who is really influencing whom?
I ask this question because China’s wild overreaction to one tweet — quickly deleted — by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey has revealed, in glaring fashion, that the NBA, and everything that grows from it in American business, is far more interested in protecting Chinese cultural norms than American values.
American corporations are enforcing Chinese authoritarian values on American individuals in American buildings.
If you haven’t seen it, Morey tweeted out a concise and straightforward image tweet that said, “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.” China responded by enacting a complete and total cultural blackout, according to CBS, censoring anything related to the Rockets, Morey’s team. If you live in China, you can no longer find, buy, or get any information related to the Houston Rockets through normal channels.
Again, this is all over one tweet that was up for less than an hour. And the NBA’s handling of the entire situation has made Roger Goodell’s handling of the NFL anthem protests look like a Chick-fil-A drive-thru of efficiency and grace.
While the NBA has paid lip service to players, coaches, and personnel having the freedom to say what they want about China, it’s bizarre to hear everyone in the league spouting the same lines about this being a nuanced and challenging situation that’s difficult to understand. For a league full of so-called independent thinkers, the speed with which they developed a monolithic hivemind is telling.
There is so little nuance and difficulty in this situation that even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) both signed a joint letter with other colleagues blasting the NBA for its conduct in defending China. This situation is so non-nuanced and easily understandable that it’s probably the only thing uniting this country.
The problem here — and why I brought up Nixon opening up China — is that the NBA isn’t reflecting American values; it’s reflecting Chinese values. The NBA prides itself as being the “woke”-est sports league in America, with players, stars, and coaches happily chiming in on the latest political news — but when it comes to Hong Kong, the NBA is kicking fans out of arenas who bring signs or chant in protest of the Chinese government.
And here’s the kicker: the NBA is kicking those pro-Hong Kong supporters out of stadiums in the United States. Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. are two cities where it’s been confirmed that this has happened.
The NBA is embracing Chinese police state censorship to stay in the good graces of a totalitarian communist state.
And they’re not alone. The NBA is driven by media and merchandise. Companies like ESPN, Disney, and Nike all hold massive stakes in the NBA’s existence — and the Chinese market.
ESPN, in particular, is hawking blatant Chinese propaganda in their newscasts. But they aren’t alone, either; there’s an unfortunately long list of companies happy to bootlick the communist police-state of China.
The point of sending the NBA to China was exporting American values there as a form of soft diplomacy. If China is, in turn, exporting its police state communism here — and the NBA is defending that — then that soft diplomacy has failed.
The NBA can’t be allowed to do that, and Americans shouldn’t stand for that form of communism to get friendly airtime in the states.
“Woke capitalism,” as it gets called, is more than happy to lecture America on the dangers of Donald Trump, “inhumane” abortion laws, and why we need to accept far-left ideology in the culture war. But when its time to stand up to a real threat — like a country that has murdered millions of people based on race and religion, and has committed more human atrocities than the Soviet Union — woke capitalism turns out to be nothing more than privileged hot air.
“Opening up China” was probably the correct thing to do. But we need to ask whether and how China is opening us up and changing our core values for the worst. If we’re the ones being influenced by Chinese communist notions of censorship and corruption, then we need to take a step back and ask if we need to change how we’re trading with China, or if the cultural impacts here outweigh the economic implications.
A free society with a robust and vibrant culture is more important than a wealthy, authoritarian trading partner.
And if you don’t agree with that, go Google “Uyghurs.” They’re only the latest casualty.