20 January 2020
The controversy has led  to calls for a boycott of the NBA in China. Photo: Reuters
The controversy has led to calls for a boycott of the NBA in China. Photo: Reuters

Would NBA saga cast a shadow on US-China trade talks?

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday trade talks with China are “going well” and “should be wrapping up soon”. He was scheduled to meet with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He at the White House today.

However, the recent NBA saga, which added to tensions between the world’s two largest economies, could complicate matters.

A tweet by NBA team Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sparked quite a backlash in China. It said: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” He has since apologized and deleted the post.

The NBA has enjoyed a huge following in China, but Morey’s comments have angered many Chinese, who are now calling for a boycott of the basketball league. Netizens are also demanding that NBA business partners sever ties with the league. 

Meanwhile, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey’s right to express his opinions, thereby adding fuel to the fire. 

The incident has apparently intensified the “China threat” sentiment in the United States. If US companies increasingly rely on the China market for business, so the thinking goes, they may not be able to speak out freely any more.

Such concerns could foster more support for Trump, who is running for reelection next year, or encourage voters to prefer a more hawkish administration when it comes to dealing with China.

All this could mean more restrictions on Chinese investment into the US or US investment into China.

Despite Trump’s positive comments on the trade talks, it might be too early to get overly optimistic about the results.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 10

Translation by Julie Zhu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist