China is flexing its economic muscle for political ends, with more local sponsors of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) mainland events suspending their ties with the league over a tweet that backed Hong Kong’s protesters.
Following the decision by China’s state television and tech giant Tencent Holdings Ltd to not show pre-season NBA games, the country’s largest sportswear maker and the second-biggest dairy firm joined in distancing themselves from the US organisation. Smartphone maker Vivo said it was pulling out, while Master Kong, a maker of instant noodles and beverages, said it ended all NBA-linked marketing activities.
In the latest China controversy involving the NBA, Beijing is resorting to a time-tested strategy of targeting businesses it deems to challenge its political interests — especially those questioning its sovereignty over certain territories. The furor, triggered by tweet by an official with the Houston Rockets, has imperiled the NBA in a multibillion-dollar market.
“Beijing takes a zero-tolerance attitude to any perceived foreign interference in its internal affairs,” said Hugo Brennan, principal Asia analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.