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Photo credit: Shutterstock

South Park Was Right— About China’s Censorship

October 11, 2019 by Christopher Walsh
As recent events have shown, the Chinese Communist Party will suppress anyone’s freedom, including those of us in the United States and elsewhere, to maintain their grip on power and keep the democracy genie in the bottle.

As recent events have shown, the Chinese Communist Party will suppress anyone’s freedom, including those of us in the United States and elsewhere, to maintain their grip on power and keep the democracy genie in the bottle.

In mid-October in Washington, D.C., Americans rallied to support Hong Kong democracy protests during an exhibition game between the Washington Wizards and China’s Loong Lions. The NBA’s relationship with Beijing came under fire after a team executive voiced support for Hong Kong’s democracy movement. The league was criticized in the aftermath over perceptions that it values its financial relationship with Beijing more than defending freedom of speech against a foreign authoritarian power.

Outside of the Wizards’ Capital One Arena, one protestor wearing a “Free Hong Kong” shirt held a pair of signs:“Shame on the NBA” and “South Park was Right.” South Park, the often-controversial animated program, had recently weighed in on Chinese censorship in the United States with some biting satire of American media and entertainment industries. Predictably, Chinese authorities responded by blocking access to the show in China, which prompted the show’s creators to issue a classic South Park “apology.”

During the Wizards’ game, several people in the stands displayed signs expressing solidarity with Hong Kong democracy protestors and denouncing Chinese tyranny.  One man held a small, neon-yellow poster that read “Google Uighurs.” The Uighurs are a persecuted Turkic, Muslim minority in China of which Beijing has placed millions in internment camps.  Staff proceeded to commandeer such signs around the arena stating that political messages were prohibited by policy. For expressions such as “Google Uighurs,” it strikes me as a bad enforcement of policy, particularly given the NBA’s previous statements supporting freedom of expression.

As I’ve written previously about Beijing’s censorship in free societies, the Chinese Communist Party wants to silence all international discourse and content that challenges its authority domestically. This has happened on U.S. college campuses, Hollywood movies, and now through American companies like the NBA and Apple.

In conversation, some Americans ask me why the United States should be supporting democracy around the world. They sympathize with those struggling for their own liberty, but consistently return to the notion that we have our own problems at home.  Another popular refrain I hear is that the United States shouldn’t support democracy overseas until we have our own democratic system in order.

Frankly, I disagree with either premise. We are a compassionate and capable nation built on the ideals of freedom. To the first point, the United States is blessed with the ability and resources to address domestic and international commitments simultaneously. Only a miniscule fraction of the federal budget goes to foreign assistance; moreover, such aid contributes to programs that prevent extremism and keep U.S. troops safe at home.

To the second, I say that American democracy’s nature is such that it will never be “in order;” it’s messy and slow by design to prevent domination by a single group or actor. That’s what makes democracy great— frustrating at times— but great. American democracy is always evolving and through its various institutions strives to protect and expand the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Our example of democracy is why Beijing concerns itself with some Americans expressing their opinion on Twitter. For them, the liberal democratic order is an existential threat; they fear catching it like a plague. The Chinese Communist Party dreads the idea of its people exploring individual liberty or coming to the realization that government should answer to citizens, not the other way around.


Author

Christopher Walsh
Christopher Walsh

Christopher Walsh serves as Senior Program Manager for the Human Freedom and Women's Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.  In this role, Christopher manages communications, evaluation, and public policy research projects that advance freedom and democracy in the world. He also develops and implements efforts to make the Bush Institute a welcoming place for today’s generation of dissidents and democracy advocates, overseeing visits for training, inspiration, and insight. 

Prior to joining the Bush Institute, Christopher worked with the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C. As IRI’s program officer for Central and Eastern Europe, he coordinated political party building and civic advocacy programs in the Balkans and Turkey.

A native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Christopher is a graduate of American University with a B.A. in International Studies.  He currently lives in Dallas with his wife and three young children.

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