China, the NBA, and the Uighurs

By: Engr. Edgar Mana-ay

If the 104 million Filipinos are crazy with basketball, more so are the 1.5 billion Chinese people.

The number one market of the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) in the world is not the Philippines but China.

By the way, the NBA is a very large and lucrative business venture on merchandising (even a kargadorat the pier wears a Kobe Bryant jersey) and advertising tie-up with almost zero competition, and just like the Morgan Chase financial and banking firm, both have a firm grip on the global market.

NBA even has a basketball academy in Xinjiang, China, a place where a minority of  11 million people called the UIGHURS, are systematically being persecuted by the Chinese government.

The spat between the NBA and China started in a tweet by Houston Rocket General Manager Daryl Morey expressing his personal support for the pro-democracy Hong Kong protestors against China. And this happened at the worst possible time when there are schedules of several exhibition games between the different NBA teams, the Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, and other teams in Shanghai and Guangzhou as part of its pre-season conditioning.

The reaction of the Chinese government to the tweet was swift and warlike. It immediately announced the cancellation of NBA games but later rescinded because of people pressure (China blinked first), although TV and radio coverage of the games were prohibited. It also dropped sponsorship for the Houston Rockets and the NBA league itself, including the removal of huge NBA logos and banners in buildings.

While tension between the Houston Rockets and China appears to have cooled down, the financial repercussion will be felt into the future. NBA pulls about $500 million revenues a year from China and any losses would disproportionately hurt the Rockets more, being the most popular NBA team in China. If tremendous revenue drop from China happens, then the salary cap for all NBA players may drop by 10% to 15% from the projected $116 million per team for 2020-2021. The cap is determined by the league revenues, so massive losses would hurt players as well as owners.

The reaction of China to a mere PERSONAL tweet of one person, Houston Rocket GM Morey, supporting the protestors in Hong Kong reveals the true bully attitude and wicked character of  Communist China towards other people who will not toe the line nor cater to what it wants.

A classic example is China’s systematic eradication of the Uighur culture and tradition as a Muslim community of 11 million people living in the Tarrin basin of Xinjiang. They have been natives of China but became Moslem in the 10th century and Islam has since played an important role in its culture and identity.

China wants to effectively eradicate any evidence of WHO THE UIGHURS ARE and make them look like the Han Chinese, their main ancestors. To make matters worse, the Uighurs insist on maintaining the practice of its religion and culture.

To disconnect the Uighurs from its history and culture, China’s government systematically destroyed its cemeteries, temples and places of worship, forbid them to grow a beard or wear veils. Since 2014 the Chinese government has exhumed, flattened at least 45 Uighurs cemetery based on satellite imagery. In the Philippines desecration of cemeteries is the mother of all crime!

An estimated 1 million Uighurs, especially the young, have been rounded up into education camps in Xinjiang for brainwashing and immersion into the Chinese culture in the guise of combatting religious extremism and separatism. Those who are free are subject to rigorous surveillance and restrictions like home visits of officials. These are all part of a massive government-run campaign of ethnoreligious repression and cleansing of the Uighurs race.

China can persecute its own people who will not conform to state rules but it should not insist that others like Hong Kong and the NBA submit to its communistic system especially the absence of the freedom of expression, religion and basic human rights (an alien word in China).

I salute the Hong Kong youth protestors and the NBA organization for standing up against China even at the risk of losing life and limb in the case of the Hong Kong protestors and business opportunities and money in the case of the NBA.

Even a group of US lawmakers has urged the NBA to suspend all activities in China including the closure of the NBA academy in Xinjiang until China and Chinese firms and broadcasters end their boycott of the Houston Rockets and the league.

Lawmakers further told NBA Commissioner Adams Silver: “You have more power to take a stand than most of the Chinese government targets and should have the courage and integrity to use it. It is not unreasonable to expect American companies to put our fundamental democratic rights ahead of profits. Equivocating when profits are at stake is a betrayal of fundamental American values.”

The NBA-China spat is another episode that exposes the wicked character of China and provides another lesson for us Filipinos in cavorting with China. We are not as powerful as the NBA and the US government to stand up against bully China. But being a small country and without a mighty military arm is never a reason to kowtow and hobnob with bully China at the expense of our dignity and sovereignty.

Now is the time for DU30 to return to the fold of the US, our true and longtime friend. We should also take lessons from the Hong Kong youth who, armed only with umbrellas, are willing to give up their lives just to uphold their dignity and basic democratic rights.

In dealing with bully China, we should take note of what John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) said: “Bravery, courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into thin air.”