The Unforeseen Effects of Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Protests

Written by: Emery Jochnau

By now, most of the international community is aware of the pro-democracy protests that have been going on for nearly five months in Hong Kong. Some, however, might not understand exactly why they are occurring. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, and because of this the citizens of Hong Kong typically enjoy more political freedoms than they would have in mainland China. The protests first started in June after Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, announced that an extradition bill was set to be passed. The bill was created by the Chinese government to establish extradition laws with Hong Kong, and Lam stated that the bill was necessary in order to prosecute a Hong Kong man for murder. Many Hong Kong citizens felt the bill endangered the region’s semi-autonomous relationship with China, and thus took to the streets to begin these protests. People living there feel that the bill poses a threat to their safety, and that it not only would allow China to extradite criminals in Hong Kong, but it would begin to target political activists protesting the Chinese government as well. Those detained would be subject to communist rule, which many Hong Kong citizens, and the international community, feel is unjust. As the protests continue, they have grown to be more violent with police forces responding with more brutality and force. Bombings, shootings, murders, and stabbings have occured between police officers and citizens. As of July, four people have been killed, and the number of injuries keeps growing.

The international effects of the growing protests and rising political instability are now intertwined in Chinese politics. The first effect was widely felt during the beginning weeks of August when the number of protesters grew so large that they shut down the Hong Kong airport. Flights to and from Hong Kong were cancelled, and many foreigners were stuck with nowhere to go. Recently, the international effect of these protests have come back in conversation, particularly relating to the sports realm. 

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has been making headlines in relation to the Hong Kong protests. This began when Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted his respect and support for the Hong Kong protests on October 4th. Morey’s tweets have now affected the NBA’s standing with China, which jeopardizes its business success, because the sport has been gaining a massive fan base in China particularly. To cater to the growing fanbase, NBA teams play internationally for their preseason games, the most popular being in China. China and the NBA have billion-dollar deals that have ensured the large success of the league. Just this summer, the NBA agreed to a billion dollar deal with a Chinese company to remain the league’s exclusive digital partner in China. The relationship between China and the NBA has been considerably compromised as a result of Morey’s pro-Hong Kong tweet, and the current NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, is doing all in his power to rectify the situation without compromising any of the league’s morals. Adam Silver recently publicized that the Chinese Government asked that the NBA fire Morey for his tweets, but Silver declined this request and said that there “was no chance of that happening.” The losses to the NBA have been vast; their preseason games are not currently being streamed in China and many financial consequences have not even begun to be realized. Additionally, Hong Kong’s protests may prove to be the biggest challenge to the current Chinese President Xi Jinping thus far. After seeing the response from the Hong Kong citizens, Lam formally withdrew from the Extradition Bill, however the protests have not quieted down. Instead, the protests are becoming stronger, and the situation does not currently seem to have an end in sight. Support and condemnation have both been given during these times and created international incidents as a result. 

Additionally, because of unanticipated events in the Hong Kong protests, the NBA now has to take precautions to resolve its growing rift with China or the consequences will be substantial. Not only will the financial consequences continue to pile up, but players like Yao Ming have voiced their displeasure for the NBA. The impacts on the NBA are only starting to come to fruition, starting with financial damage. However even with these consequences beginning to build, Silver will not adhere to China’s requests for Morey to be fired and will instead search for other ways to make amends with the Chinese government. While Adam Silver will not comply with China’s requests to fire Morey because it would go against the NBA values, he has stated he will deal with those consequences. However, the NBA has tried to censor any additional comments that show political alliance with Hong Kong to cater to China’s requests. While it is not the exact response China is looking for, it may slowly turn into enough to repair the damage that has been done.  

China’s response to the protests and to the NBA exemplify how strong of a power they have become in the international world. Hong Kong’s protests have publicized the differences that exist politically in their homes compared to the politics that exist under Xi Jinping in mainland China. Hong Kong residents feel that China is taking too much control over their semi-autonomous region and trying to interfere when their systems are supposed to remain separate. Additionally, the implications of this tweet show that the Hong Kong protests have reached a large international audience, a goal of this movement. Furthermore, the impacts for the NBA are only starting to come to fruition, starting with financial damage. As the protests continue, the NBA and all who are associated with it will be on close watch by the Chinese government. The NBA will continue to try and mend the broken relationship with China, so that the league will not suffer any more than it has up until this point.