China conceived its ascension in 1949 with a 100-year plan. After 30 years of perceived hibernation, it boldly embarked outward in 1979 and by 2019 had reached unimaginable heights.
Chinese statecraft is a clandestine combination of strategic patience, nationalistic cohesion, and art of war strategies that cannot be countered by election cycles.
On October 7, 2019, seven words posted on social media, "Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong." will forever alter the trajectory of China's rise.
NOTE: What I think will 'likely' happen, and what I believe 'should' happen are not mutually exclusive.
Sports have become an instrument of diplomacy since the earliest attempts to moderate disputes and paranoia between adversaries. It is the ultimate "soft power" vehicle to bridge opposing cultural divides.
Ping-pong diplomacy was successful and resulted in opening the U.S.-PRC relationship, leading the U.S. to lift the embargo against China in 1971. The event marked a thaw in Sino-American relations that paved the way for the historic visit to Beijing by Richard Nixon in Henry Kissinger in 1972.
Basketball and the NBA have cross-pollinated sports idols from Yao Ming of China to Stephon Marbury from New York.
After ten years with the Houston Rockets, Yao Ming has become a global sports icon on par with Michael Jordon and is the president of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).
When Yao Ming retired in 2011, NBA commissioner David Stern said Yao was a "bridge between Chinese and American fans" and that he had "a wonderful mixture of talent, dedication, humanitarian aspirations and a sense of humor."
Stephon Marbury, a native of Brooklyn, New York, found his true calling in China, playing eight years in the CBA to later coaching the Beijing Royal Fighters.
In 2015, Marbury received a Chinese green card.
The NBA is the most followed sports league in China, with more than 150 million followers.
Yao Ming felt betrayed by Daryl Morey's tweet, which caused him a massive loss of Face (Mianzi). In Yao's mind, it was the ultimate betrayal because of his history and Guanxi with the Rockets organization.
When individuals or organizations have Guanxi, there is an expectation of continual reciprocity and goodwill. What Yao experienced from the actions of Morey was mutiny to the highest degree. In seven words, Morey and all of his affiliates became mortal enemies.
Yao immediately severed ties, figuratively speaking, by suspending cooperation with the NBA, and every Chinese constituent in his Guanxi web naturally followed suit. Yao Ming is a national hero, and his discontent mirrors the sentiments of the CPC.
The practical ramifications moving forward will be for both sides to rebuild their Guanxi relationship via Face-giving gestures, overtures, and public statements.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) is very selective, bordering on arbitrary, in their protest and punishment against individuals and entities that "disrespect" China. This approach endeavors to slowly and patiently chip away the US-led world order to replace it with a version that better conforms to their ideology.
The CPC's lack of transparency and consistency is a brilliant display of peekaboo pressure and assertions that have masterfully kept foreign antagonists below a tipping point of united escalation. Still, this battle with the NBA is a slippery slope because it is a globally loved and admired brand that has no substitute, but more importantly, the NBA doesn't compete with anything that China seeks to dominate via its 'Made in China 2025.'
Neither Apple, Tesla, Amazon, nor Google can make this claim, so making Daryl Morey's tweet a national issue will prove to be a grave misstep for China.
Once a strictly China "internal" matter, Hong Kong has now become a global issue of its own making. China has inadvertently brought every apolitical sports superstar into their "internal" conversation, and they are not going to like the attention, rhetoric, or cascading backlash.
Most will agree that doing business in China requires a certain degree of respect and restraint when it comes to geopolitics, and no one expects professional athletes to take positions on sensitive global issues, like the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Now, post-Tweet, all athletes will be asked their opinion, which contradicts China's strategy to distract and redirect the world's attention.
Imagine what would happen post-Tweet if the CPC were to suppress the Hong Kong protestors by military force as they did in Tiananmen square in 1989 -- It would become a PR nightmare that unmasks China's benign force-for-good persona with its authoritarian character.
China displays multiple good cop bad cop facades, which is why the majority of the free world is continuously distracted by its goodwill and economic opportunities.
China has cleverly manipulated the world's attention with a carefully crafted message of victimhood, which it certainly was, and spreading prosperity across the world, which it certainly is.
China deserves all its accolades!
China also deserves its rightful phoenix rising moment to its proper place in the global world order.
Bringing non-partisans into the China conversation is a new normal that will not be good for China's strategic ambitions.
CPC is two fundamental goals.
The CPC serves its citizens only as a means to further these two fundamental goals, which has not been a bad exchange for most Chinese people. In fact, for most, its been a reasonably good deal.
China has no religion. China is officially atheist!
To maintain its authority, Chinese citizens cannot aspire to a higher purpose more significant than that of the country, which is China itself!
For many, basketball is a religion, so for China, this is devastating.
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