During the Pelicans vs. Wizards NBA game Monday night, Uyghur activists and allies raised “Free Uyghur” banners and the iconic flag of East Turkestan, the Uyghur homeland, in defiance of the NBA’s ties to China.
Free Uyghur banner held up at the Wizards game tonight in DC pic.twitter.com/wN66RWUDoO
— Diana Hussein (@heyadiana) November 16, 2021
While NBA players and attendees have been free to advocate for their pet causes on and off the court, addressing China’s treatment of the Uyghur people has been off-limits. The NBA has a large market in China — roughly 10 percent of its revenue in 2019. The NBA has lost access to some Chinese markets as messages critical of the Chinese government have become more frequent among both league leadership and fans, causing it to lose out on over $200 million in revenue.
Because of the financial issues this criticism has caused in the past, mentions of Chinese oppression in East Turkestan, Hong Kong, and Tibet are effectively off-limits now. Broadcasts of the Boston Celtics game have been scrubbed from Chinese channels because center Enes Kanter steadfastly supports Uyghur, Tibetan, and Hong Konger rights. Live feeds are cut and ticketholders are ejected for showing any apparel or messaging that could insult the Chinese Communist Party.
That is exactly what happened on Monday, as courtside protesters were ejected from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. (ironically in Chinatown). Salih Hudayar, the current prime minister of East Turkestan in Exile, was one of those removed. “Security came and then the police, they pushed us out,” Hudayar told The American Spectator, in what he said was an “attempt by the NBA to appease China.”
While this has not been the only NBA protest in support of Uyghur sovereignty and human rights, it came at a particularly poignant time. During the game, President Joe Biden was in remote talks with President Xi Jinping. At the meeting, Biden called Xi an “old friend,” referencing their frequent flights together. The talks ended with a tone of “greater cooperation.” In recent years, China has engaged in the suppression of democratic action in Hong Kong, has placed Uyghurs in concentration camps, and has lied about its role in a pandemic that has killed millions around the globe. This is hardly a time for friendship.
The Biden administration has bent to Chinese tyranny — in some cases literally. The administration claims to support human rights and sovereignty, yet remains largely quiet on Chinese abuse of such rights.
Advocates of the Uyghur people have been struggling to make their case to the Biden administration. Hudayar, the aforementioned prime minister in exile, told The American Spectator that while Trump was in office, “there was a back and forth” with the State Department, but since Biden has entered office, his efforts to advocate for his people have been stonewalled.
For now, perhaps waving the blue flag of Turkestan (banned in China) at large events is the best way to make the case for the Uyghur people. This exposes corporate media for its cowardice on issues of human rights, and the communist backlash also exposes China’s authoritarianism. Advocates face an uphill battle when the American government is unwilling to even communicate with them and the media blocks them out. But ignoring East Turkestan, occupied by the Chinese communists since 1949, will only make the Xi regime bolder.
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