Pence accuses NBA of 'acting like a wholly owned subsidiary' of China

Pence accuses NBA of 'acting like a wholly owned subsidiary' of China
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Vice President Pence on Thursday hammered the NBA and Nike for their handling of the controversy surrounding a Houston Rockets executive's tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters, accusing the companies of ignoring human rights abuses in China.

"Some of the NBA’s biggest players and owners, 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 in remarks in Washington on the U.S.-China relationship.

"In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime," he added, calling it "un-American" for U.S. companies to "embrace censorship."

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The vice president also blasted Nike, accusing it of hypocrisy in promoting itself as a "social justice champion." He cited reports that Nike stores in China removed Houston Rockets merchandise following General Manager Daryl Morey's support of Hong Kong protesters.

"When it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social conscience at the door," Pence said.

"A progressive corporate culture that willfully ignores the abuse of human rights is not progressive – it’s repressive."

The NBA has been embroiled in controversy since Morey tweeted "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong" earlier this month.

Chinese companies suspended ties with the Rockets in response. China is a major revenue source for the league, and players and league officials largely avoided backing Morey in what was viewed as an effort to appease Beijing.

Pence's comments — which came in the middle of a speech that was largely critical of China's economic and human rights abuses — echoed the response from lawmakers in both parties who have taken out their ire on the NBA rather than China.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been adamant that the league would not compromise its values to appease Beijing, but the league response has largely been overshadowed by comments from some of its most vocal players and coaches.

LeBron James, the league's most prominent player and an outspoken advocate for social justice issues in the U.S., said he thought Morey may not have been educated on the issue.

Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, a typically outspoken critic of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE, has largely avoided discussing the issue.

Pence in his speech touted the Trump administration's support for Hong Kong protesters.

“To the millions in Hong Kong who have been peacefully protesting to protect your rights these past months: We stand with you,” Pence said. “We are inspired by you. And we urge you to stay on the path of non-violent protest.”

But human rights advocates and some lawmakers have said Trump could do more to speak out against Beijing's crackdown on protesters.

CNN reported that Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping during a June phone call that he would not be vocal about the Hong Kong protests during ongoing trade negotiations.

Trump has repeatedly said he hopes the two sides can reach a humane solution amid escalating tensions but has avoided directly criticizing Beijing. Earlier this month, the president praised the Hong Kong protesters for their "tremendous signage" and suggested a new partial trade agreement with China would aid the protesters.

“I think that’s going to take care of itself,” Trump said of the dispute. “I actually think this deal is a great deal for the people of Hong Kong to see what happened. I think this is a very positive thing for Hong Kong."