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Pence Chides NBA, Nike For 'Losing Their Voices' On China

Vice President Mike Pence speaks about U.S.-China relations in Washington. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/via Getty Images
Nicholas Kamm
AFP via Getty Images
Vice President Mike Pence speaks about U.S.-China relations in Washington. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/via Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence scolded the NBA and Nike on Thursday for backing down from support for Hong Kong protesters after China complained.

"Some of the NBA's biggest players and owners, who routinely exercise their freedom to criticize this country, lose their voices when it comes to the freedom and rights of the people of China," Pence said in a speech about the Trump administration's China policy in Washington.

The NBA has been embroiled in controversy after a Houston Rockets executive tweeted in support of protests in Hong Kong. The tweet was deleted, but China reacted swiftly, canceling player appearances in the country. The NBA's media partner in China also said it would not air two preseason games played there.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James was critical of the pro-Hong Kong protests tweet sent by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, saying that there were negative ramifications.

"In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of that authoritarian regime," Pence said.

He also called out Nike for removing Houston Rockets merchandise from stores in China and said the move was un-American.

President Trump has faced some criticism, himself, for not speaking out forcefully to support Hong Kong protesters in the days after they began. Trump is hoping next month to sign what he calls "phase one" of a larger trade dealwith China.

Pence said the U.S. stands with Hong Kong protesters and urged restraint on the part of China. He said "it would be much harder for us to make a trade deal if the authorities resort to the use of violence against protesters in Hong Kong."

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.