McConnell warns NBA to respect free speech on China

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBipartisanship has become a partisan weapon Washington showing signs of normalcy after year of restrictions Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday warned the NBA not to put its profits over free speech when it comes to the democracy movement in Hong Kong. 

McConnell became the latest lawmaker to criticize the league for attempting to quash Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s tweet urging support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.


“The people of Hong Kong have risked much more than money to defend their freedom of expression, human rights, and autonomy. I hope the @NBA can learn from that courage and not abandon those values for the sake of their bottom line,” McConnell tweeted. 

McConnell has often spoken out on the issue of preserving the autonomy of Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 after 156 years of rule under Britain.

He authored the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which expressed the sense of Congress that the United States play an active role in maintaining Hong Kong’s role as an international financial center and work to expand its economic and cultural ties to the city. The Senate Appropriations Committee last month advanced McConnell’s amendment updating the legislation to ensure “the U.S. maintains a watchful eye on the Chinese government’s aggressive encroachment on Hong Kong,” according to a statement McConnell released.

In August, the GOP leader wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal titled “We Stand With Hong Kong” in which he argued that China’s crack down on protests there offers “yet another cautionary tale about how the Chinese regime treats those within its envisioned sphere of influence and disregards international agreements that govern them.”

McConnell has also asked Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJim Elroy RischAny reduction in Energy Department's cybersecurity resources a mistake Biden cancels military-funded border wall projects Senate panel greenlights sweeping China policy bill MORE (R-Idaho) to examine the Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong and its efforts to expand its influence and surveillance powers.

And the leader is working with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood causes headache for GOP in key S.C. race GOP governors move to cut unemployment benefits as debate rages over effects Trump critics push new direction for GOP MORE (R-S.C.) to add language to annual appropriations legislation to fund democracy and human-rights programs across Asia.

Tuesday's tweet was a rare instance in which McConnell came out on the same side of an issue as The New York Times editorial board, which opined Monday that the NBA’s silence on China’s human and civil rights record “is merely complicity.” 

McConnell’s statement is also notable because his wife, Elaine Chair, the secretary of Transportation, is Chinese American and was born in Taiwan, a country that has long been a source of tension between mainland China and the United States. McConnell’s father-in-law, James Chao, is the founder of the Foremost Group, a multimillion-dollar shipping company.

Morey caused an uproar over the weekend when he tweeted a slogan of the pro-Democracy movement in Hong Kong, which is protesting the Chinese government’s attempt to increase control over the city.

After tweeting, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” Morey immediately deleted his post and walked back his statement.

“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” he wrote in a follow-up tweet. “I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.”

A spokesman for the NBA on Sunday apologized for the tweet, saying it was “regrettable” and acknowledging that Morey “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.”

The Rockets are one of the highest-profile franchises in China, a huge potential market, because one of China’s best basketball players of all time, center Yao Ming, played parts of 8 seasons for the team.  

Other GOP lawmakers have also criticized the NBA’s response.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBipartisanship has become a partisan weapon Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden Seth Rogen says he's not in a feud with 'fascist' Ted Cruz, whose 'words caused people to die' MORE (R-Texas), for example, tweeted on Sunday: “We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship.”

--This report was updated at 2:16 p.m.