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Faced with economic backlash, major brands side with China ahead of Hong Kong protesters

Faced with economic backlash, major brands side with China ahead of Hong Kong protesters
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As protests roil Hong Kong, companies wary of upsetting the major Chinese market and its patriotic, high-end customers are distancing themselves from pro-Hong Kong opinions. On top of internal efforts to quell dissent in the semi-autonomous region, brands are quickly noticing that China will target those that show support for protesters. On the weekend, after a tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, the NBA initially launched into an embarrassing defence of China ahead of its own executive, who had backed those taking to Hong Kong’s streets. But the Rockets and the NBA are not alone. Faced with similar calls, brands are deciding, quickly, that siding with China makes economic sense. Here is a look at how five brands have climbed down:

The NBA

The basketball league was backtracking quicker than some of its fastest players this week, after a tweet by the Rockets’ Morey caused outrage in China, which earns the NBA hundreds of millions.

After backing the Hong Kong protesters over the weekend, Morey quickly deleted his post but it had already enraged the Chinese government and its supporters in the key NBA market. The Rockets, in particular, have strong ties to China stemming from Yao Ming, the Chinese player who starred in the Rockets’ colours for almost a decade.

Reuters reported that Rockets sponsors Li-Ning (a sportswear brand) and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Credit Card Center immediately stopped working with the team.

1/ I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.

“I did not intend my tweet to cause any offence to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Morey quickly tweeted Monday, but it was by then too late.

Among other retaliatory measures, Reuters reports that Chinese state television has now said it will not be airing NBA exhibition games that are slated to be played in China this week.

The NBA first came out on China’s side, saying that, “we recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”

A more strident version of the statement posted in Chinese by the league read:

“We are extremely disappointed in the inappropriate remarks made by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey.”

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said Morey, in tweeting his protest, did not speak for the Rockets.

However, after a backlash from within the U.S. — including from lawmakers — on Tuesday the NBA seemed to switch its stance, with Commissioner Adam Silver saying freedom of expression should be protected.

“The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say,” Silver said in a statement, CNN reported. “We simply could not operate that way.”

Blizzard

On Tuesday it was announced that top Hong Kong gamer Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai had been kicked out of a tournament by Activision Blizzard Inc., a U.S. game developer, after making his own gesture in support of the Hong Kong protesters.

The gamer protested during a Grandmasters tournament for Blizzard’s popular game Hearthstone, ending a stream on the Hearthstone Taiwan page with a message on Hong Kong.

“Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!” Ng said, according to a post by gaming website InvenGlobal.

The gamer wore a mask during his message; Hong Kong authorities have in recent days banned face masks, in a move that it is feared will by default expand police powers of arrest.

Breaking: Effective immediately, Blizzard has removed Hong Kong Hearthstone player blitzchung from Hearthstone Grand Masters, rescinded all his prize money, and have suspended him from pro play for one year for his recent interview.

 

Like other brands, Blizzard is under scrutiny for caving in. Activision has deep ties to China, including distribution and development deals with Chinese companies, Bloomberg reports.

Ng has been banned from all similar tournaments for a year and had his prize money revoked, Blizzard confirmed in a statement posted to the Hearthstone website.

“Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard’s image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms,” the statement read.

“I expected the decision by Blizzard, I think it’s unfair, but I do respect their decision. I’m not (regretful) of what I said,” Ng told InvenGlobal.

Vans

Reuters reports that Vans has removed “a small number” of submissions in its Global Custom Culture sneaker design competition — including one that highlighted Hong Kong’s protests. Each year the company asks the public to vote on their favourite design, and receives some 100,000 submissions from entrants around the world. The winner of the yearly contest is awarded $25,000, and the company then makes that shoe, CNN reports.

Reuters reported that the initial winning design this year came from an entrant called Naomiso, from Canada, but this entry was then taken out. Among other Hong Kong imagery the sneaker included a yellow umbrella — Hong Kong’s 2014 protests were dubbed by some as the umbrella revolution.

Here’s another #HongKong artist offering free customisation, people only have to provide an old pair of vans and proof of donation to fund supporting arrestees. Look at that Prince Edward Station on the heel tho pic.twitter.com/xAcVuYMyhc
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