Condoleezza Rice: China violated US sovereignty with NBA Hong Kong backlash

Former secretary of state condemns Chinese influence on NBA but advises measured policy on Hong Kong

Condoleezza Rice, a former US secretary of state, has condemned Beijing’s forceful reaction to an NBA general manager’s support for Hong Kong, describing it as a contravention of American sovereignty.

Last month the general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, tweeted an image stating: “Fight for Freedom. Stand for Hong Kong.” This provoked a furious response in mainland China.

Chinese companies suspended ties with the Rockets, the NBA’s exclusive streaming partner Tencent stopped showing Rockets games and according to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Beijing allegedly demanded that he fire Morey.

Morey and Silver both apologised to the Chinese people in the days following the fiasco and the original tweet was deleted.

Speaking on a panel in the United Arab Emirates, Ms Rice condemned this coordinated reaction stating: “That’s a violation of American sovereignty, because Americans have the right to say what they please. And so I think this has become something of a problem between the two countries, it’s not going to go away, it’s certainly not going to go away in Congress, where I think people are holding back on sanctions but worried that they may have to put them forward.”

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The scandal is the first prominent case whereby the tensions between the US and China have spilled from trade and geopolitical policy into the cultural sphere.

While in China the tweet provoked defensive nationalist reactions from companies and consumers, in the US president Donald Trump has used the incident to emphasise the dangers of the Chinese Communist party.

Criticising some NBA coaches who stayed silent during the affair, Mr Trump observed: “They talk badly about the United States but when they talk about China, they don’t want to say anything bad.”

Ms Rice was nuanced in her advice to Mr Trump on how to deal with the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, stating: “America has to be a little bit careful. We can’t tell the people of Hong Kong we are going to do something we can’t do, that we’re somehow going intervene in Hong Kong. We can’t. But we can continue to speak for the rights of those people to protest for their rights.”

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