Bullying businesses into self-censorship will back-fire - Guest blog: Luke de Pulford

Sport has often been used as an ice breaking tool in international relations.

Richard Nixon famously used “ping pong” diplomacy during the 1970s to create a thaw between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, paving the way for Nixon’s visit in 1972.

The slogan “Friendship First, Competition Second" was coined to describe the role that sport could play in promoting vibrant and respectful relations between States and peoples.

Daryl Morey, AP

Daryl Morey, AP

This week China turned back the clock and put coercion first and coexistence second as Chinese firms suspended their ties with the US Basketball team, Houston Rockets. This was after Its general manager, Daryl Morey, fell foul of China’s attempts to close down debate about the use of coercion in Hong Kong. He had tweeted “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

Seemingly unable to comprehend the principle of free speech, China Daily - the Communist Party newspaper- demanded that he retract and apologise. After a couple of days he did exactly that, presumably under heavy pressure from the NBA. Another victory for President Xi who has been collecting such capitulations - like a Hall of Shame filled with with people who readily dispense with the need to show solidarity with Hong Kong when the weight of their wallets is threatened.

But why worry about free speech when you sanction emergency powers that include curfews, the extension of detention without trial, censorship of the internet and taking control of all transport? This, in addition to one year prison sentences for daring to wear a face mask.

This bullying and intimidation of the Houston Rockets is all of a piece with China’s persistent campaign to isolate Taiwan by pressuring States that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan to sever them.

But bullying often backfires. The US has responded with the welcome Taipei Act - which will strengthen Taiwan, economically, diplomatically and militarily. While in Hong Kong the bullying is creating a generation who have been strengthened in their determination to defend their freedoms.

For opponents of Chinese Communists it will be a case of game, set and match.

Luke de Pulford is Director of the Arise Foundation and sits on the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission