CHINESE AND U.S. trade negotiators resume high-level talks in Washington on Thursday. The run-up could scarcely be less promising.
On Monday, the U.S. blacklisted 28 Chinese organisations for their role in what the Trump administration alleges is repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang province. The 28, which include both government agencies and technology companies specialising in surveillance equipment, will be added to the Entity List, which means they will require U.S., government permission to purchase anything from U.S. companies.
This brings a human rights dimension to the trade talks that the Trump administration has mostly sought to keep at arm’s length. In June, U.S. President Donald Trump had told President Xi Jinping in a phone call that he would not condemn the protests in Hong Kong in order not to jeopardise the trade discussions.
Those injected themselves into the conversation regardless over the weekend after Daryl Morey, the general manager of the U.S. professional basketball team, the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA), on Friday evening tweeted his support for the Hong Kong protests. He deleted his tweet overnight, but that did not prevent a deluge of criticism and retaliation from China, and damnation of the NBA within the United States for what many there said was craven capitulation by the NBA to protect what is now its most important market. The Rockets are particularly popular in China as it is the team that made Yao Ming into a superstar.
The Rockets’ attempts to recover from that position has been no less unedifying. It will be intriguing to see how two NBA preseason games to be played in Shanghai and Shenzhen at the week are received.
The affair offers a clear example of Chinese retaliation — perhaps more accurately a chilling threat of retaliation — against a U.S. business expressing a political line unacceptable to Beijing. It also shows the levers of pressure authorities can apply in such circumstances to U.S. businesses that are increasingly dependent on the Chinese market for growth.
However, it underlines how the Trump administration’s tariff-centric approach to applying pressure on the trade negotiations puts excessive emphasis on merchandise trade when so much of the big money in U.S-China trade is no longer that.
We are still trying to work out who has got the best end of this export deal. Corinthians, a top professional football team in Brazil, has signed Chen Zhizhao from Nanchang Hengyuan on a two-year loan. Chen will be the first Chinese to play in the Brazilian league.
The diminutive 23 year old striker has sufficient talent to have spent the last six months in a development camp for promising Chinese players in Portugal, giving him a smattering of Portuguese that will be helpful at his new club. But Corinthians make no secret of the fact that Chen will be no more than a squad player. Their main reason for taking him on is to raise the club’s profile in China. Not that there is anything wrong in that. Professional football is a business and plenty of European teams have take on Asian players for just such marketing purposes, knowing that if they become first team regulars it will be a bonus.
The most successful examples of Chinese playing abroad are probably Li Tie and Sun Jihai in the English Premier League in the early 2000s. Manchester United signed Dong Fangzhuo from Dalian Shidein 2004, hoping to repeat in China the marketing success they have had in South Korea with Park Ji-sung, but Dong never made the grade as a player. That may be the challenge for Chen in Brazil, and limit Corinthians return on their investment.
Our man in the world of muddied oafs says the real prize for foreign clubs among China’s rising generation of players is Deng Zhuoxiang, a 22 year old midfielder who plays for Shandong Luneng but the transfer price being asked for him is intentionally prohibitive. Yet what China’s troubled domestic game really needs now, even as it brings in top foreign stars like France international striker Nicholas Anelka, is a homegrown player to star for a top club in a top foreign league, just as Yao Ming’s success in the NBA in the U.S. boosted basketball at home.
Whether benign (ping-pong) or violent (basketball, ice hockey, cricket, etc, etc, etc), international sport has always been close enough to international politics to commute. The risk of putting sport in the service of diplomacy is that it can so readily reflect national interests and rivalries. Those can flare up at any moment, as we saw on the basketball court in Beijing on Thursday evening when a PLA team, the Bayi Rockets, which plays in the CBA’s southern division, took on, in every sense, the Georgetown Hoyas, students from America’s Georgetown University.
This latest ugly example (video, via The Guardian) prompted this Bystander to re-read George Orwell’s classic essay, The Sporting Spirit, written in the wake of in ill-tempered ‘goodwill’ visit to Britain in 1945 by the Dynamo football team from Stalinist-era Moscow. Two passages in particular resonated:
At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue….
As soon as strong feelings of rivalry are aroused, the notion of playing the game according to the rules always vanishes. People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. Even when the spectators don’t intervene physically they try to influence the game by cheering their own side and “rattling” opposing players with boos and insults. Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.
Orwell concluded, “There are quite enough real causes of trouble already, and we need not add to them by encouraging young men to kick each other on the shins amid the roars of infuriated spectators.” Words seemingly as true today as then.