By Abby Ivancevich
In a world that has come to have a few disproportionately dominant countries, international corporations and organizations are some of the only actors able to challenge such broad authority. Although not always directly affiliated with one another, they can have significant influence as a group. Sometimes, though, they choose to respond to global controversy with purposefully impartial statements. This indicates that they are choosing profits over potential social impact, that neutrality is sometimes the price they choose to pay for global influence.
Since 1997, China has maintained sovereignty over the citizens of Hong Kong. Due to previous British rule, many Hong Kong natives welcome ideas with considerable Western influence and connotations, such as democracy or social justice. As China’s global authority and control tactics have expanded in recent years, so too have many Hong Kong citizens’ fears of maintaining autonomy. The original agreement between China and Hong Kong is known as “one country, two systems.” Essentially, Hong Kong maintains an autonomous government and legal system while still under Chinese control. Recent protests in Hong Kong stemming from a proposed extradition bill have continued and even escalated since the bill was withdrawn, with intense violence between protesters and the police. Now, many protesters envision an entirely independent and democratic state of Hong Kong.
“Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” This concise message, tweeted on Friday by Houston Rockets head coach Daryl Morey, has sparked a heated debate about Hong Kong’s democracy, China’s growing influence, and globalization.
China’s response to the tweet was especially fervent because Chinese native Yao Ming used to play for the Rockets, so the team and coach are well known in the region. Even after the tweet was deleted, China immediately stopped coverage of the NBA preseason and demanded an apology.
The country’s growing market for basketball and its massive population offer a fantastic economic opportunity for the NBA, one that it does not want to pass up. The NBA has not attempted to remain neutral in the issue. They contested: “we recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable […]We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”
Perhaps even more shocking, individual NBA players and coaches have declined to comment on the situation, potentially in response to instructions from the association or consideration of the ramifications of their opinions. The voices of individuals, even those who don’t directly represent the NBA, are being silenced. For what reason? In such a polarized political climate, neutrality has its merits, but the reasoning for that neutrality is troublesome in this case. Neutrality means nothing if it is bought or has an ulterior motive.
Similar organizations, such as the NFL, have also chosen to stay neutral when it comes to controversies like this one. The media firestorm after Colin Kaepernick kneeled for the national anthem is similar in its depth and impact. When Kaepernick knelt in the name of current and past racism in America, the NFL issued a statement saying “we embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities. The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action.” No matter its beliefs, the NFL was more concerned with viewership than it was about directly supporting or standing against the issue.
Globalization has given way to mass communication, technological advancements, reduction of poverty, illness, and famine. However, it has also made multi-national organizations like the NBA and NFL accountable to the world. Some modern corporations, like Apple, have a higher net worth than entire countries. Due to this growth, international relations issues and global organizations and corporations have become intertwined.
This is not to say that these international organizations must necessarily become partisan, but their impartiality on issues should not be controlled. If these companies are so consumed with the backlash of supporting one side or the other in public arguments, how will nations and movements be challenged, supported, or held accountable globally?
Photo courtesy of Jonathan (Flickr).