Take a look at the headlines today and it doesn’t take long to get a bit overwhelmed. Keeping track of any of the quickly evolving story lines is a full-time job.
Impeachment and Ukraine. A Turkish invasion of Syria. The question of the Kurds. The fleeing of the Ecuadorian government. Anti-government protests in Iraq.
Every one of those story lines is filled with history and context that would take hours to comb through. And even then, we may not fully understand what’s happening. The problems our world is facing are becoming increasingly complex and the crippling feeling of crisis can rapidly fold itself into fatigue.
And when fatigue hits, it’s simply easier to change the channel.
I’m tempted all the time to stop reading the news. I feel helpless in the midst of such chaos and human suffering. And if I choose to dig in and engage with even one of the crises swirling around in the mayhem of national and international politics, that story alone seems so full of backstory that it’s hard to remember why I should care and how it affects the life the average American is living.
I had that moment this week when a high school student asked me what the big deal was that an NBA coach supported some people fighting for democracy in Hong Kong.
Oh yeah ... Hong Kong. I left that one off the list.
For a while now, droves of people — and by droves I mean somewhere near 1 million people — in Hong Kong have been participating in some pretty wild street protests. They started out protesting a proposed bill that would allow the Hong Kong government to send suspected criminals to mainland China.
Hong Kong’s a part of China, right? So what’s the big deal?
Well, like all of these stories, it’s complicated. Hong King is technically a part of China. But for over 100 years it was ruled by Britain, who “won” control of the island after the Opium Wars (which is a whole other ball of wax). Anyway, in 1997 Britain ceded control back to China. But China, recognizing that Hong Kong had lived under a completely different political and economic system for decades and decades, agreed that Hong Kong could maintain its legal, business and political systems until 2047.
So this law about taking suspected criminals to China in 2019 seemed like China was putting the cart before the horse. And people were a little spooked that maybe that law would end up being used to send political dissidents to China.
Pro-democracy activists weren’t having it.
Hong Kong’s leader ignored the protests at first and then agreed that the bill at the heart of the protest would not become a law. Everyone expected the protests to die down and life to go back to normal — except it didn’t.
Protestors seized the opportunity to protest some other things about Hong Kong’s political infrastructure — including the right for everyone to be able to vote. What started as a relatively peaceful protest against a proposed law spiraled into a violent street fight between Hong Kong’s police and the protestors about voting rights, police violence and demands for more democratic control of Hong Kong’s government.
But wait — what does any of this have to do with the NBA?
Like many other international controversies, this one started with a tweet — from Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. He used his 280 characters to send a little support Hong Kong’s way and he was met with pretty serious backlash. The Chinese government, which is incredibly fond of American basketball, suspended the airing of all Rockets games. That doesn’t seem like too big of a deal. But the loss of the $1.5 billion streaming deal with the Chinese media definitely is.
Morey apologized and deleted the tweet. But the damage was done.
The NBA isn’t the only American company facing questions of business and promoting democracy abroad. Apple recently took down the app used by protestors to crowdsource location information about protestors and police. China’s media made implications that Apple’s choice to allow the app on its platform was paramount to supporting the “rioters.”
The app isn’t there anymore.
Add to all of this the continuing trade war with China and the picture just gets more and more convoluted.
Why do we care?
Because while it doesn’t seem like Hong Kong is affecting our daily lives, some of our biggest companies are facing questions of curbing free speech to protect business interests abroad. And it isn’t an unfounded or illegitimate predicament. It’s a question our global companies are going to have to continuously work to figure out.
The issue in Hong Kong is just one of dozens of cases about what we believe are fundamental freedoms and whose job it is to protect them — and whose job it isn’t.
Cortney Stewart is a 2003 graduate of Lecanto High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs, a master’s degree in intercultural studies and is currently working on her Ph.D. in international conflict management. She most recently spent two years teaching and training students, teachers and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq. Email her at email@example.com.