stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
NBA, e-sports stoke worry of China's influence
space
Western companies have sought to placate Beijing over showings of support for Hong Kong, and the sporting world is fighting back
space
By NATHAN VANDERKLIPPE
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Friday, October 11, 2019 – Page B15

BEIJING -- Anxiety about China's rising influence has descended upon basketball courts and digital-gaming battlegrounds around the world, dragging sports franchises and millions of fans into a deepening conflict between the West, with its expectations of free speech, and Beijing, with its demands for conformity.

The furious Chinese response to an NBA executive's short-lived tweet in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and a similar declaration by a now-suspended video-game player has elevated the global profile of that city's clashes between authoritarianism and democratic rights.

China sees the protesters as anti-government rioters bent on secession and has threatened those with business interests in the country if they offer an alternative view. But in extending that pressure to the sporting world, it has provoked a backlash among people who might not otherwise pay much heed to international affairs.

For most people in Western countries, China has until recently been "like a black smoke monster. You knew it was rising, but its shape was amorphous and nobody really had interest in exploring its essence," said Tom Doctoroff, an advertising executive with two decades of experience in China who is now the chief cultural insights director at Prophet, the global brand and marketing consultancy.

"Now what you have, for the first time, is China touching on elements of popular culture, where it's much easier for people to crystallize the difference between their culture and our culture and what it might represent should a 21st century be dominated by China."

The collision of China's authoritarian dictates with sport and its immense audience has happened on multiple fronts within the span of days. First Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted - then deleted - an image saying, "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong" last Friday.

When NBA commissioner Adam Silver pointedly refused to apologize to soothe anger in China, Chinese sponsors abandoned the NBA, local broadcasters suspended the transmission of some games and state media lashed out.

Days later, online-gaming giant Blizzard Entertainment handed a one-year suspension to Blitzchung, an elite Hong Kong video game player who on Tuesday wore a mask and goggles to a postgame interview and shouted, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time."

On Wednesday, cable sports channel ESPN added to concerns about U.S. deference to Beijing when it aired a map of China that included the country's ninedashed line, its territorial claim to much of the South China Sea, which few other countries accept.

Now the sporting world is fighting back.

In the United States, fans brought "Free Hong Kong" placards and shirts to an exhibition basketball game Wednesday night between the Washington Wizards and the Guangzhou Loong Lions. The signs were seized by security staff, citing a prohibition on political displays.

The previous day, two fans were booted from a game between Guangzhou and the Philadelphia 76ers for similar signs.

"We're witnessing something here," said Jon Schweppe, director of policy and government affairs at the American Principles Project, who was among those carrying signs at the Wizards game. "I don't think people recognized just how much of an influence on American culture China has - and the Chinese government has."

A similar phenomenon has emerged in electronic-sports arenas, with players and executives around the world speaking out against Chinese pressure after the response by Blizzard, whose parent company boasts 350 million monthly users of some of the world's most popular games, including Call of Duty, Candy Crush, Hearthstone and Overwatch.

In Australia, video-game startup Immutable pledged financial support to Blitzchung - only to be hit by a concerted cyberattack Thursday. In the United States, prominent figures in digital gaming publicly criticized Blizzard, pledging to boycott its games.

"That kind of appeasement is simply not something I can in good conscience be associated with," said Brian Kibler, a popular streamer, in a statement on his website. Tim Sweeney, the founder of Epic Games, a U.S. company that's roughly 40-per-cent owned by China's Tencent, said on Twitter that "Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights." Fortnite is the company's multibillion-dollar hit game.

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, gamers designed images of Mei, a character in the popular Blizzard game Overwatch, clad in protest gear, hoping to make one of the company's icons a new symbol of protest.

"Finally people around the world, and especially America, are taking notice of the influence of the Chinese government," said Avery Ng, a pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong. "It's time that the American people, as well as American corporations and businesses, really stand up and uphold their core values of freedom."

Sports has historically played an important role in international relations with China. In the early 1970s, Ping-Pong diplomacy was "the beginning of a good relationship between China and the U.S.," said Bo Zhiyue, a specialist in Chinese politics and the director of the XIP Institution, a think tank at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.

The dispute over the NBA and e-sports stands to mark a milestone of a very different kind. The circumstances between the two sides are "the opposite," Bo said.

"I'm not sure China has already gotten into this Cold War era yet.

But I think we are moving toward that." He blamed both the United States and China for stoking nationalism, amplifying events in ways that have raised mutual suspicion and inflicted damage to the relationship.

But it is China that stands to lose, said Doctoroff, as widening recognition of Chinese pressure on foreign businesses - including airlines, luxury-fashion labels and Apple, which on Thursday cut access to an app used by Hong Kong protesters - stands to dramatically erode the country's multibillion-dollar efforts to boost its soft power, exacerbating a trend that's already under way.

Public perceptions of China are sliding in North America, Western Europe and parts of Asia, according to a survey released by the Pew Research Center on the eve of the People's Republic of China's Oct. 1 celebration of its 70th anniversary. The worst declines were in Canada and the United States, where 67 per cent and 60 per cent of respondents had unfavourable opinions, the highest in Pew polling history. In the United States, almost half of those polled held favourable views of China as recently as 2017. Now, barely a quarter see it that way.

Then came the NBA and Blizzard.

"This is a teachable moment in Western societies," said Richard McGregor, an author who has written about Chinese elite politics and is now a senior fellow with the Lowy Institute in Australia. "Because Chinese politics, once it spills offshore, looks crude, didactic and coercive to anyone who lives in a democracy."

Associated Graphic

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers goes to the basket against the Brooklyn Nets during a preseason game in Shanghai on Thursday. Sports has played a key role in international relations with China, such as the Ping-Pong diplomacy of the 1970s with the U.S.

HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP GETTY IMAGES


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Johanna_Schneller Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page