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‘Stand With Hong Kong’? Not When N.B.A.’s Chinese Fortune Is on the Line


Echoing China’s worldview, especially as it relates to its sovereignty over disputed territories, is considered a cost of doing business there, for both entertainers and companies.

Gap was forced to apologize in 2017 after selling a shirt that featured a map of China without including Taiwan, a self-governing island off its southern coast. The Marriott International hotel chain apologized in January 2018 for listing Tibet, a region of western China, and Taiwan as countries in a customer survey.

In February 2018, the German automaker Daimler apologized for using a quote from the Dalai Lama, who is widely viewed as a Tibetan separatist in China, in a social media post from its Mercedes-Benz brand.

In March 2018, China demanded that international airlines refer to Taiwan as part of China in their online booking systems, a request mocked by the White House as “Orwellian nonsense” but eventually obeyed by all major carriers.

For its part, the N.B.A. has weathered outrage in China before. Last year, J.J. Redick, then of the Philadelphia 76ers, recorded a video for the Chinese New Year in which he appeared to use a racial slur for Chinese people, which he later said was an unintentional verbal slip. He apologized, but was roundly booed when he touched the ball during preseason games in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

The discussion around Hong Kong, though, is a much more passionate topic for Chinese fans. Joseph Tsai, the billionaire co-founder of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and owner of the Brooklyn Nets, said in a statement late Sunday that Hong Kong was a “third-rail issue” in China, calling the protesters’ efforts a “separatist movement.” (Most protesters deny they are interested in independence, but the Chinese state media has at times depicted them that way.)

“If we said we supported 9/11, what would American pigs think? Put yourself in others’ shoes,” one commenter on Weibo wrote.


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