A single tweet from a Houston Rockets official has set off a firestorm and a wide-ranging debate about how China is trying to impose its policies on the rest of the world by using its economic might and access to the Chinese market. Elsewhere, Activision Blizzard is coming under fire for banning a gamer for supporting the Hong Kong protesters. And now, Apple is in trouble for approving and removing apps that annoy the Chinese powers that be.
There are a lot of editorials being written, but I like the one Fred Wilson wrote about principles over profit as a way to think about all decisions. Ben Thompson, in his (by now widely read) op-ed, gives a cultural context to what is happening in China and the recent conflagration with NBA — and by extension, the United States. It is one of the best explainers you can read, though there is one element missing in Ben’s commentary: our (West’s) collective hypocrisy.
We in the West should very well know what and who we are dealing with — China might be decked out in Louis Vuitton, but underneath, it is still a single-party, quasi-communist nation. Knowing the Western desperation for growth and the insatiable needs of the stock markets, China also knows it can yank anyone’s chain.
Huawei isn’t a recent problem. It was a problem a decade ago. The dynamic in this spat between the NBA and China isn’t new — China gets what China wants, not the other way around. Why are we being outraged now? The West signed up for this.
I was reading Ian Bremmer’s recent email newsletter, where he writes:
in the west, the past decades have been marked by a view that china would eventually adapt to western norms, institutions, political and economic systems. but from an asian perspective, the opposite appears more likely. after all, of the last 2,000 years, china and india have led the global economy for the first 1800; europe and the united states only flipped the script for the last 200. now that’s about to change. and when it does, it’s going to happen quickly, powered by 1.4 billion increasingly urban, educated and technologically-connected chinese citizens. take the long view (and an asian perspective) and it’s a better bet that the west will adapt to the realities of chinese economic power, not the other way around.
Sitting in Delhi, it is fairly easy to be reminded of the time when most of the world felt the same way about the American influence on culture, economy and politics. Growing up in socialist India — where I grew to hate the lack of hope, which is why I am happy to be a disciple of the uniquely American philosophy of possibilities — I read countless articles in newspapers and magazines that bemoaned American hegemony.
Now the shoe is on the other foot now, and China is doing the kicking with its way of governance, controlling speech and business.
New Delhi, October 10, 2019