Wrote this piece for the SCMP. Some minor differences between version below and at SCMP because of space imitation and other minor editorial issues…
On China’s Indignant Response to Morey’s Tweet and Apple’s release of HKmap.live.
Over the last week or so, the long simmering China – U.S. disputes seems to have spilled over from the geopolitical and economics realm into the people-to-people realm. This is not good. I write this article in the hopes of explaining why America – in this increasingly multi-polar world – needs to learn to be fellow citizens in this world and refrain from hard-nosing into other people’s affairs.
Two incidents over the weekend seem to have triggered a public outcry in China. The first incident involves a tweet last week by Daryl Morey – general manager of the Houston Rockets – retweeting protesters’ slogan “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” The second involves Apple’s decision – since rescinded – to distribute through its App store an App called HKmap.live – which allows “protestors” in Hong Kong to crowdsource information relating to police locations to better plan their attacks.
The response in China – via its state media and throughout its various vibrant social media platforms – has been uniform, swift and unequivocal. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver did not help when he appeared in a press conference to back Morey by declaring that “Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys [a] right … to Freedom of speech.”
I want to take a brief time to explain why the NBA needs to reflect and apologize.
From any rational perspective, the Hong Kong protesters can no longer just be considered just “protesters.” They are rioters. Maybe even terrorists.
Almost daily, we see “protesters” attacking, beating, even burning innocent bystanders. They deliberately block roads and traffic to cause maximum mayhem. They occupy airports and stop and beat travelers whom they do not believe are sympathetic. They organize rallies to deface business, government, and public properties. They vandalize and loot and have taken to attacking directly police officers – who have shown utmost restraint – with petrol bombs, lasers, rods and knives.
Even if assuming the “protesters” truly are fighting for the things that they say they believe in: rule of law, democracy, and freedom, what they are doing still cannot be justified in any way. In Hong Kong’s brutal colonial past, protests were indeed illegal and brutally suppressed. But in today’s Hong Kong, protests are legal and openly allowed. Freedom of religion and of speech is allowed.
Even in the U.S. – which has one of the strongest protections of Speech in the world – the government regulates the time, place and manner of protest. American protesters do not have a First Amendment right to block pedestrian or vehicle traffic, or to prevent entry and exit from buildings, or to harass other members of the public. Protesters in America do not have a First Amendment right to obstruct and resist police officers; trespass; disobey police orders regarding traffic; vandalize; break curfew at parks, beaches or other public spaces; conspire to inflict harm to others; to disturb the peace; or to incite violence against on grounds of others’ race, religion, nationality, identity, or other beliefs. Protesters also cannot target their protests at sensitive facilities such as abortion centers, hospitals, churches, and homes of individuals or disregard government’s regulations relating to sound amplification and other noise issues.
Today, Twitter, Facebook, Google and other American tech stalwarts regularly remove posts, accounts and apps that constitute “hate speech,” “untrustworthy” information, “disinformation,” or the “promotion” or “incitement” of “violence,” etc. These companies can and should be able do more to prevent their platforms from being used by violent rioters in Hong Kong to plan violence in violation of local laws and in contravention of their own guidelines.
If Morey wants to support the absolute “freedom” of rioters to express their conscience, fine. Perhaps he should move Rocket’s games from the Mainland to Hong Kong. But if some Mainland or Hong Kong’s counter-protesters were to show up at his games and start vandalizing and looting and attacking his “fans,” would he stand up also for rights also of these “counter-protesters”?
I hope more Americans do more homework before they preach, judge and cast their stones at China. China is a major power, not a target for foreign-sponsored violent overthrows. Please do unto others only as you would have them do unto you.
Crying “fire” in a crowded theater – whether in the U.S. or Hong Kong – is a crime … not Freedom. Throwing “incendiary bombs” at crowds and police is also a crime … not “Freedom.”