What We're Watching: The NBA's Double Dribble With China

What We're Watching: The NBA's Double Dribble With China

The NBA and the PRC – When the world's largest consumer market is also an opaque, highly nationalistic autocracy, global businesses have to walk a fine line between their values and their valuations. The latest example comes from the world of basketball. Over the weekend, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, a team in the US-based National Basketball Association (NBA), posted an image on Twitter in support of the Hong Kong protesters, who are currently fighting pitched street battles against the Chinese state. But after Chinese sponsors and state broadcasters immediately pulled the plug on Rockets games, the NBA issued a statement distancing itself from the post and apologizing for any offense it had caused in China. That contrasted markedly with the NBA's more supportive stance of its players' views on social justice issues in the US. The cold math here isn't hard – China is a billion-strong basketball-crazed market whose leaders, and people, are touchy about outside criticism. But should the NBA use its platform to speak out on global issues like this? What do you think?


Fresh Protests Against Lenin – Ecuador has been rocked by increasingly violent protests and strikes in recent days as people take to the streets to vent their anger about higher prices for gas and other consumer goods. President Lenin Moreno was once a devoted vice president to the socialist leader Rafael Correa, but since winning the presidency himself in 2017 he has pursued austerity policies (lower spending, higher taxes, fewer government jobs) designed to rein in the country's debt and stabilize the economy with IMF help. A recent decision to abolish fuel subsidies provoked the current unrest. In addition to cracking down on the protests, the government has been arresting shopkeepers for overcharging people for staple foods subject to price controls. A two-month state of emergency has been declared.

North Korea-US Talks Back on Ice – Evidently it took all of 8.5 hours for the latest round of nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang to break down. Ahead of the weekend talks in Sweden, things seemed to be promising: for one thing, the White House no longer employs John Bolton, who ferociously opposed talks with North Korea. For another, the US reportedly arrived with a proposal to lift some sanctions for 36 months in exchange for the verifiable closure of North Korea's main nuclear facility. But the North Koreans, who insist on a full removal of sanctions, said the meetings were "sickening." The US now has two weeks to come back to Sweden with something more appetizing. President Trump seems to want another summit with Kim Jong-un before the 2020 election, but – as with several other outstanding foreign policy issues – time is running out to seal a "deal" that he can point to in his campaign.

What We're Ignoring

Putin Picking Mushrooms – Russia's president spent the days leading up to his 67th birthday hiking through southern Siberia's rugged and richly forested landscapes with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Just two ordinary fellas enjoying the bounty of nature. Putin's vacation pictures are always carefully choreographed by Kremlin imagemakers (imedzhmeikerstvo is a real word in Russian), so there is clearly a political point to portraying Putin in this way. But we are ignoring this because we preferred the ones where he drove a Formula 1 car, shot a tiger, or disguised himself as a mommy Siberian white crane in order to lead a flock of the endangered birds on migration.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

News broke across the United States on Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, ending her long and distinguished career as a jurist. Tributes poured in quickly from men and women on both sides of the political spectrum. But just as quickly, her death has sharply raised the stakes for the upcoming US elections for president and the Senate, as well as the longer-term ideological balance of the nation's top court.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on the biggest development in US politics this week:

So, the scriptwriters for 2020 have thrown as a real curveball, introducing the most explosive element in US politics, just six weeks before the election. The tragic death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be remembered as a trailblazing jurist, but also a reliably liberal vote on a court that was divided along ideological lines with a five-four conservative majority. This has the potential to upend the presidential election. And likely will motivate turnout on both sides. But also, importantly for president, Trump could remind some Romney voting ex-Republicans who were leaning towards Biden why they were Republicans in the first place. Which means that it has the potential to push some persuadable voters back towards the president.

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(Some) Thais fed up with royals: In their largest show of force to date, around 18,000 young Thai activists took to the streets of Bangkok on Saturday to rally against the government and demand sweeping changes to the country's powerful monarchy. The protesters installed a gold plaque declaring that Thailand belongs to the Thai people, not the king — a brazen act of defiance in a country where many view the sovereign as a god and offenses against the royal family are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Activists also got the royal guards to accept a letter addressed to King Vajiralongkorn with their proposed reforms. We're watching to see if the Thai government — made up mostly of the same generals who took over in a 2014 coup and then stage-managed last year's election to stay in power — continues to exercise restraint against the activists. So far, some protest leaders have been detained but they are growing bolder in their defiance of the military and the royal family, the two institutions that have dominated Thai politics for decades. Prime Minister and former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha is in a tough spot: many young and liberal Thais will hate him if he cracks down hard on the peaceful protesters, but not doing so would make him look weak in the eyes of his power base of older, more conservative Thais who still venerate the monarchy and are fine with the military calling the shots in politics.

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32: Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra survived an impeachment vote on Friday after only 32 out of 130 lawmakers supported his removal for allegedly trying to block an investigation into misuse of public funds. Vizcarra was in peril just a week ago, but the case for impeachment lost steam after the president was backed by the military and influential opposition leaders who insist the country needs stability to fight COVID-19.

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