Enes Kanter to Joe Biden on China: ‘Stop Playing Games with Bullies’

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 22: Turkish NBA Player Enes Kanter speaks to media during a news conference about his detention at a Romanian airport on May 22, 2017 in New York City. Kanter returned to the U.S. after being detained for several hours at a Romanian airport following statements …
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty

NBA star Enes Kanter urged President Joe Biden to “stop playing games with bullies” in anticipation of his scheduled virtual meeting with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping on Monday.

In a post on Twitter on Sunday, Kanter – who has dedicated this basketball season to condemning the long list of human rights atrocities Xi’s Communist Party is currently committing – urged Biden to discuss the ongoing genocide of the Uyghur people, cultural erasure of Tibetans, and the violent crackdown on pro-democracy dissidents in Hong Kong.

The White House has not expressed with clarity the purpose of the discussion with Xi, arguably the world’s most prolific human rights criminal. Chinese state media has emphasized that Xi will use the time to pressure Biden to distance the United States from the democratic government of Taiwan. While America incorrectly does not recognize Taiwan as a state, it maintains economic ties and, most importantly for China, sells Taiwan weapons. Biden has bizarrely claimed that the United States is “committed” to defending Taiwan militarily against a Chinese invasion, outraging Beijing.

“Stop playing games with bullies & do what you promised to the world! Prioritize human rights!” Kanter wrote in a post addressing Biden.

“Will [Joe Biden] ask about Uyghur Genocide or assault on Tibetans & HK?” Kanter asked. “Or will they pat each other on the back?”

Kanter published the statement with photos of smiling Xi alongside Biden during prior public appearances, an indication he expected little from the virtual meeting.

The Biden administration, like that of former President Donald Trump, has described the ongoing extermination of the Uyghur people of East Turkistan a genocide. In preparation for Monday’s meeting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a conversation with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, that reportedly did not address any of the issues Kanter mentioned.

“The Secretary emphasized longstanding U.S. interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and expressed concern regarding the PRC’s [China’s] continued military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan,” the State Department said in a readout published on Saturday. “He urged Beijing to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve cross-Strait issues peacefully and in a manner consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people on Taiwan.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not offer any more details on the upcoming video call on Monday.

“As agreed by the two sides, President Xi will have a candid, in-depth and thorough discussion with President Biden on strategic issues affecting the future of bilateral relations as well as important issues of mutual interest and concern,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters during the ministry’s daily briefing. “It is hoped that the U.S. will work in the same direction with China … properly handle sensitive issues … and bring China-US relations back onto the right track of sound and steady development.”

China’s Global Times government propaganda outlet indicated that Xi would prioritize pressing Biden on the issue of Taiwan, a sovereign nation that China insists is its “province.” The Times specifically described “suppressing” the government of Taiwan, which it derisively refers to as a disorganized group of “secessionists,” as Xi’s goal for the conversation.

“Anyone who attempts to split any region from China will perish, with their bodies smashed and bones ground to powder,” Xi Jinping threatened in 2019.

Kanter has vocally supported Taiwan’s right to self-determination both on the court, in the form of sneakers emblazoned with the Taiwanese national flag, and in videos online explaining his position.

“Taiwan is NOT a part of China and NEVER will be!” Kanter wrote on Twitter this month.

Kanter began his advocacy for the victims of the Chinese Communist Party with a statement in support of the people of occupied Tibet, where China is estimated to have imprisoned half a million people in labor camps. Beijing has imposed a pervasive surveillance state there and effectively outlawed Tibetan language, Tibetan Buddhism, and all hallmarks of Tibetan culture. He has since published similar statements in defense of the Uyghur people, Hongkongers,

Kanter has referred to Xi Jinping as a “brutal dictator” and also condemned, among others, the Saudi king for not advocating for Uyghur Muslims, Nike for profiting from Uyghur slavery, and Muslim athletes like himself who have remained silent about the genocide.

The NBA benefits to the tune of billions of dollars from business with China, resulting in very minimal support for human rights causes in China from the league despite its outsized presence there. Other than Kanter, only one other player – Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz – has condemned the Uyghur concentration camps. An incident in 2019 in which an NBA executive, Daryl Morey, expressed support for the anti-communist protests in Hong Kong, resulted in the NBA shutting down a “training camp” in the heart of East Turkistan and losses in the “hundreds of millions,” according to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Kanter told CNN last week that he has faced significant pressure to stop condemning China’s human rights atrocities.

“I had been talking about all the human rights violations and injustices happening in Turkey for ten years and I did not get one phone call,” Kanter noted. “I talk about China one day – I’m getting a call on the phone once every two hours.”

Kanter is originally from Turkey and a vocal critic of authoritarian Islamist leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, resulting in Turkey issuing several frivolous arrest warrants for him for crimes like “insulting the president.”

Kanter told CNN that, prior to the debut of his Tibet solidarity shoes – the first he wore on the court – “two guys came up to me and said, ‘You have to take your shoes off, we are begging you,” and I said ‘what are you talking about?'”

Kanter described the men as NBA officials. He insisted on wearing the shoes, resulting in Chinese stream Tencent canceling the broadcast of all Boston Celtics games.

“NBA made me do this,” Kanter explained to CNN, “because every time when one of the NBA teams or the commissioner comes out to speak, they say we are encouraging players to talk about whatever they want to talk about. We are giving freedom to our players to talk about all the injustices happening around the world, all the human rights abuses around the world. So, they gave me this right.”

NBA officials have largely abstained from weighing in on Kanter’s campaign, aside from one statement from Celtics official Brad Stevens following his first anti-China statement. The Communist Party has also ignored Kanter, compared to the unrelenting campaign of insults it hurled at Morey in 2019 through its government propaganda arms.

The Celtics have stopped playing Kanter in games since he began his campaign. He has played ten minutes total all season and has not taken the court in November.

“Keep limiting me on the court, I will expose you off the court,” Kanter wrote in a cryptic message on Sunday.

 

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