After Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, sent a tweet voicing support for Hong Kong protesters, Beijing initiated a boycott and threatened to cancel cooperation with the NBA. Despite the threats, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has defended Morey’s right to free speech, citing the NBA’s values of “equality, respect and freedom of expression.” State broadcaster China Central Television subsequently announced a suspension of all pre-season NBA coverage in China.
The brouhaha over the NBA is not an isolated case. US game company Blizzard Entertainment banned gamer Ng Wai Chung (吳偉聰), also known as Blitzchung, from its Hearthstone Grandmasters e-sports competition for a year and withheld prize money he had won after he donned a gas mask and shouted the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement slogan: “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” during a post-award ceremony interview. China has also terminated cooperation with the gaming competition’s main broadcaster.
Intimidation tactics employed by Beijing are nothing new — and nobody understands this better than Taiwanese, who have been on the receiving end of China’s bullying for more than a half-century. The question is, how should the world respond to Beijing’s steamrollering of democratic freedoms?
In 2017, the US nonprofit National Endowment for Democracy coined the term “sharp power” to describe subversive policies of authoritarian governments — including China — to influence Western liberal democracies.
The Economist magazine at the beginning of last year conducted an in-depth investigation into Chinese “sharp power” that attracted a great deal of discussion in the US and Europe.
Beijing uses protections afforded under liberal democracies to manipulate, control, probe and linger below the radar in Western societies. China’s exploitation of this “gray area” is what separates “sharp power” from traditional diplomacy and espionage, and has become a major headache that Western countries need to tackle to regain control over their societies.
With the NBA and Blizzard, China has turned the power of market forces and commercial interests into a tool for gaining an advantage and suppressing the free world. Beijing’s aim is to force each country to dance to the tune of its ideological value system on a range of political issues that it deems to be important.
While Western countries are faced with a significant challenge, Taiwan finds itself each day fending off the threat of being annexed by China and, as such, is the world’s main battleground for infiltration by Chinese “sharp power.”
International media have taken note, such as Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review, which published an article on Dec. 18 last year titled: “China uses Taiwan as R&D lab to disrupt democracies.”
To secure a future of peace and prosperity, Taiwanese need to think carefully about what more can be done to protect their society from penetration by Chinese “sharp power.”
Hsieh Ping-chen is a student in National University of Kaohsiung’s Department of Law and an intern at the Taiwan Statebuilding Party.
Translated by Edward Jones
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