“What happens when China’s enforcers come after Winnie-the-Pooh?
Will we reluctantly hand over Pooh Bear? Really sorry about this, Winnie, but China’s an important market!
Winnie-the-Pooh has been banned in China online and at movie theaters because snarky commentators have suggested that he resembles the portly President Xi Jinping. But these days Xi doesn’t want to censor information just in his own country; he also wants to censor our own discussions in the West.
That’s the backdrop to China’s hysterical reaction to a tweet by Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets’ general manager, sympathizing with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrations.
When the N.B.A. moved into China in the early 2000s, it made a plausible argument that engagement would help extend our values to China. Instead, the Communist Party is exploiting N.B.A. greed to extend its values to the United States.
China is also forcing American Airlines to treat Taiwan as part of China, and it bullied Mercedes-Benz into apologizing for quoting the Dalai Lama. It made Marriott fire an employee for “wrongfully liking” a tweet by an organization that favors Tibetan independence.
There’s not much we can do about a dictator like Xi bullying his own citizens, but we should not let him stifle debate in our country.
Let me interrupt this diatribe, however, for important context. Those of us who criticize Xi must also have the humility to acknowledge that child mortality is now lower in Beijing than in Washington, D.C., that China has established new universities at a rate of one a week and that Shanghai’s public schools put our own school systems to shame.
So, yes, let’s stand up to Chinese bullying — and speak up when China detains at least one million Muslims, in what may be the biggest internment of people based on religion since the Holocaust. But let’s also note that China has helped lift more people out of poverty more quickly than any nation in history. With China, it’s always helpful to hold at least two contradictory ideas in our heads at the same time.”
Xi’s anxiety about the internet, religion, Hong Kong protesters, even Winnie-the-Pooh underscores his own insecurities. Xi seems terrified that real information will infiltrate the Chinese echo chamber, undermining his propaganda department’s personality cult around a benign “Uncle Xi.”