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International relations

China halts NBA broadcasts amid growing spat over Hong Kong

CCTV suspends screening of preseason games, reviews partnership

Statues of NBA players Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, left, and Lebron James of the Los Angeles Lakers hold Chinese flags in the entrance of an NBA merchandise store in Beijing on Tuesday. CCTV said the same day it won't air preseason games set to be played in the country.    © AP

SHANGHAI -- Chinese state television on Tuesday suspended the broadcast of National Basketball Association games in protest against remark by Adam Silver, the league's commissioner, that Beijing deemed unacceptable.

Silver, in an interview with Japan's Kyodo News, backed Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's recent comments that expressed his support for Hong Kong's anti-government protests.

"I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear... that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression," Silver said. In a later statement, the commissioner said he would not compromise on the league's values.

China Central Television said any remark that challenged China's sovereignty and social stability did not constitute freedom of speech.

"We are strongly dissatisfied and opposed to Silver's claim that supported Morey's freedom of expression," the broadcaster said in a statement. The current broadcast of NBA preseason games has been suspended immediately, CCTV said, while any partnership entered with the league will be reviewed.

"It is not feasible to carry out exchange and cooperation with China without taking into consideration public opinion," Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters in Beijing at a regular briefing.

The basketball spat is another clash between the world's two largest economies. On Monday, Washington widened its trade blacklist to include some of China's top AI enterprises in protest at Beijing's treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang. China signaled it would hit back, as tensions rose ahead of planned trade talks in Washington this week.

Also Tuesday, Tencent Holdings expanded its broadcast ban to all NBA games and news on its online platforms. The Hong Kong-listed internet-based operator, known for its social messaging app WeChat, initially suspended Houston Rockets games on Sunday.

With some 490 million fans in China watching NBA programs on its various online platforms, Tencent is the NBA's largest partner outside the U.S. As the exclusive official digital partner in China, Tencent signed a five-year deal reportedly worth $1.5 billion with the league in July to expand an existing partnership that began in 2015 to cover live NBA games, video-on-demand and short video content.

Security personnel ride on bicycles past a flagship NBA store at the Wangfujing shopping street in Beijing on Tuesday.   © Reuters

Morey on Friday posted an image on Twitter that said: "Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong." He then removed the post and apologized publicly after being criticized online in China, which has a huge NBA fan base.

Morey tweeted an apology Sunday night, saying that he did not intend to offend fans in China. The NBA released a statement the same day, saying that Morey's comments "deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China."

But the Chinese backlash and subsequent apologies set off a wave of criticism from American lawmakers.

Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted Monday that: "NBA players have no problem speaking out on politics & social issues in America. But they apologize to #China for a pro democracy tweet from an @NBA team executive. Hypocrites."

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who calls himself a "lifelong fan" of the Rockets, tweeted that he originally was proud of Morey for calling out "the Chinese Communist Party's repressive treatment" of protesters in Hong Kong.

The Rockets are one of the most popular franchises in the country because the team made Yao Ming, the now-retired Shanghai-born center, the league's top overall draft pick in 2002. His presence transformed the sport's popularity across China.

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