Vice President Mike Pence scolded corporate America and the National Basketball Association on Thursday for kowtowing to Beijing amid pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
In a speech to the Wilson Center, a D.C. think tank, Mr. Pence waded into the fervor over the NBA’s retreat in the face of Chinese anger over a pro-Hong Kong tweet by a member of the Houston Rockets’ front office.
The issue has festered for weeks, with cameras panning away from fans promoting Hong Kong demonstrators to LeBron James’ awkward attempt to say Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who sent the initial tweet, “wasn’t educated” on the situation.
“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,” Mr. Pence said. “In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime.”
Mr. Pence was likely alluding to coaches like the Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr, who’s criticized President Trump in the past but didn’t have much to say about Hong Kong.
Mr. Pence also accused a major sportswear company of “checking its social conscience at the door.”
“Nike stores in China actually removed their Houston Rockets merchandise from their shelves to join the Chinese government in protest against the Rockets general manager’s seven-word tweet: ‘Fight for Freedom, stand with Hong Kong,’” Mr. Pence said.
Nike made headlines earlier this year for scuttling the use of the so-called Betsy Ross flag for a planned sneaker release, reportedly after hearing objections from controversial ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have been demonstrating against Beijing for months. The protests were sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill, though their demands reach deeper.
Mr. Pence’s defense of the semi-autonomous city went further than Mr. Trump has been willing to go in his rhetoric.
Mr. Trump has called for a “humane” solution to the Hong Kong situation and mixed support for the protesters with praise for Chinese President Xi Jinping. He says the Communist leader is a capable man who could sort out the situation by meeting with protest leaders.