WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - US President Donald Trump declined Wednesday (Oct 9) to criticise China for pressuring the National Basketball Association (NBA) to renounce a league executive's expression of support for the mass pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mr Trump said the two sides "have to work out their own situation. The NBA knows what they're doing."
At the same time, Mr Trump accused NBA coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich, both of whom have criticised him in the past, of "pandering to China" for failing to speak out forcefully on the matter in their own right.
Mr Trump mocked Mr Kerr for acting "like a little boy he was so scared to even be answering," and said the two coaches "talk badly about the United States but when it (comes to) China they don't want to say anything bad."
Mr Trump's decision not to take sides in the fast-escalating dispute that has led China to sever some ties with the NBA comes on the eve of the resumption of trade talks between Washington and Beijing.
As he has sought to maintain good relations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr Trump has appeared reluctant to publicly criticise Beijing over its handling of the Hong Kong demonstrations that have lasted for weeks.
Asked about the trade talks, Mr Trump said he believes a deal remains within reach but said any agreement must be better for the United States than for China.
"This has to be a better deal from our standpoint. I think they fully understand it," he said. "I think China has a lot of respect for me, for our country, for what we are doing. I think they can't believe what they have gotten away with for so long."
US companies have faced increasing pressure from the Chinese Communist Party to refrain from political statements about the nation's affairs, and many have faced criticism from human rights groups for limiting their speech as a cost of doing business in the country.
Beijing has moved swiftly to punish the NBA, which views China as a lucrative market for television rights and merchandise sales, after Mr Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted last week in support of the Hong Kong protesters.
Though Mr Morey quickly deleted his tweet and the NBA issued a statement calling it "regrettable" that his statement had "deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China," Beijing was not satisfied with the response.
Amid a widespread backlash in the United States that the NBA was putting financial motives ahead of more principled ones, Commissioner Adam Silver said the organisation would "not put itself in position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say."
China has suspend television broadcasts of games in the country, and many of its companies have cut advertising ties with the NBA.