Acton Institute Powerblog

Corporate America’s bet on China

In Dan Hugger’s most recent post about the controversy surrounding the NBA’s visit to China, he identifies the crux of the issue: “If even the mildest form of expression of solidarity can provoke the People’s Republic of China to such draconian action as to imperil the well-being of NBA players, why play in China at all?”

When I first heard LeBron James’ criticism of Daryl Morey, like many others I thought James was concerned about potential or actual investment from China in his various media enterprises and interests. Perhaps that was part of it, but as James clarified, he was actually concerned about the safety of the players in China during their visit. Morey, says LeBron, was ignorant of the danger he was putting those players in by expressing public support for Hong Kong, and should have waited until the trip was over to make any kind of public statement.

James wasn’t so worried perhaps about losing Chinese investors; he might have been more worried about losing his own freedom, or a kidney.

Why go to China at all in such circumstances? The answer is pretty clear. Corporations like the NBA are making a bet on the future. Tyler Cowen, who is always worth listening to, expresses it succinctly. The NBA is trying to enter a new and expanding market, and it cannot afford to alienate its potential customers. Cowen’s main focus is economic growth, and China is already the world’s largest economy and projections have it continuing to outpace other nations for at least the next decade.

Cowen minimizes the fallout domestically from this controversy, asking “does this mean anti-China sentiment can no longer be voiced in the U.S.? I would say no. In fact, I’ve seen quite the opposite.” Perhaps that doesn’t include much concern for those whose expressions of solidarity with Hong Kong in NBA venues have been censored. Or perhaps Cowen is reconsidering things a bit as well.

We all should always learn more. And on that score, one of the censored signs at an NBA venue gives us a good direction to head: Google Uyghurs.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.