U.S. Vice President Mike Pence condemned the NBA and Nike for taking the side of the “authoritarian regime” in communist China over the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
In a speech at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 24, Pence said “To the millions in Hong Kong who have been peacefully demonstrating to protect your rights these past months, we stand with you.” Pence urged demonstrators “to stay on the path of non-violent protest.”
Weighing in on the NBA’s reaction to Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s expression of support for the protesters, Pence denounced players and executives of the basketball league who sided with the Chinese government’s criticism of Morey.
NBA owners and some of its biggest stars “who routinely exercise their freedom to criticize this country, lose their voices when it comes to the freedom and rights of other peoples,” Pence said.
The league was “acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime,” said Pence, who also condemned Nike for pulling Houston Rockets merchandise from Chinese stores in the wake of Morey’s comments.
“Nike promotes itself as a so-called social justice champion,” Pence said, “but when it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social conscience at the door.”
“Far too many American multinational corporations have kowtowed to the lure of China’s money and markets by muzzling not only criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, but even affirmative expressions of American values,” Pence said.
Pence added: “A progressive corporate culture that willfully ignores the abuse of human rights is not progressive – it’s repressive.”
“The vice president accused China of attempting to export censorship by exploiting corporate greed and coercing American companies, especially in the entertainment industries,” Voice of America noted in reporting on Pence’s speech.
Hollywood studios are accused of editing their content to appease China and avoid losing distribution channels in that country.
Hong Kong is a living example of what can happen “when China embraces liberty,” Pence said, amid continuing pro-democracy activism there against the city’s government and the Xi Jinping regime in Beijing.
Hours after Pence spoke, the U.S. Senate announced a new bipartisan bill that would prohibit American companies from selling munition equipment, including tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, to Hong Kong authorities. Similar legislation, called the PROTECT Hong Kong Act, passed the House last week on a voice vote.
Pence warned that if authorities in Hong Kong respond violently to protesters it would make it much harder to conclude the pending trade pact between Beijing and Washington.
The vice president said the Trump administration sought neither to “decouple” with China nor contain its economic development.
His comments came a year after he delivered an address on US policy towards China that came to be known as his “iron-curtain speech” for its articulation of the administration’s hardening position on economic and diplomatic relations with the country.
Negotiators are now working on the text of a trade deal that Trump and Xi can sign in mid-November when they meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Chile.
“We truly believe that if we can get this economic relationship right, that it may well lay a foundation for also addressing these other issues,” Pence said.
Derek Scissors, resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, said “It’s entirely up to the Chinese how offended to pretend to be” by Pence’s speech. “I suspect they will go with only temporarily offended.”