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Dwight Howard: Ex-NBA star's Taiwan comment sparks anger in China

Author: Editors Desk Source: BBC News:
May 12, 2023 at 05:42
GETTY IMAGES / Dwight Howard now plays for the Taoyuan Leopards in Taiwan
GETTY IMAGES / Dwight Howard now plays for the Taoyuan Leopards in Taiwan

Basketball star Dwight Howard has drawn a fierce backlash in China after he called Taiwan a "country" in a video.

The 37-year-old American's comments came in a commercial appearance alongside Taiwan's vice-president.

His remark was criticised as advocating "Taiwan independence" in China, which sees the island as a breakaway province.

Howard later told local media: "If I offended anyone in China, anybody you know, I apologise."

Taiwan views itself as distinct from the Chinese mainland, with its own constitution and elected leaders.

The video was created to promote an event which invited people to participate in a contest where winners spend a night at Taiwan's Presidential Office.

The eight-time NBA All-Star, who is famous in China where the sport is hugely popular, moved to Taiwan to play in the local league after he left the Los Angeles Lakers in 2022.

In the two-minute-long promotional video, the player said in English he had gained "a whole new appreciation of this country" since he arrived in Taiwan.

Taiwan's Vice-President Lai Ching-te, who played the director in the commercial, also described Taiwan as a "free country" when he mentioned that people who stay at the Presidential Office might bump into President Tsai Ing-wen when they go out for a late-night snack. 

The video, published on Wednesday, was fiercely criticised in China. 

The hashtag "Howard Taiwan independence" has been trending. Since last night, it has been read more than 400 million times on social media platform Weibo.

"Is he crazy? The promotional video has obvious Taiwan independence characters, how could he agree to do it..." wrote a basketball-focused account in a widely seen post.

Howard's official Weibo account, which has 1.6 million followers, has been flooded by negative comments. "Goodbye Howard, I will never like you again," one said.

The Global Times, a state-owned newspaper, wrote that Chinese people demanded an apology from Howard.

Taiwanese have also reacted to the row. "You won't be able to find this kind of freedom in China," one Facebook user wrote, referring to the chance of spending a night at the Presidential Office.

On Friday, while speaking at a public event in Taiwan, Howard claimed he had been misinterpreted.

"It was not my intention to harm anyone," he says. "I don't want to get involved in any politics. I am a human, and I have the right to speak."

His team Taoyuan Leopards didn't respond to the BBC's request for comment.

This is not the first time a US basketball star has been caught in a row with China.

Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter came under fire in 2021 after calling President Xi Jinping a "brutal dictator".

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have been rising in recent years. China's military last month conducted a three-day military exercise rehearsing the encirclement of the island as President Tsai returned from a trip to the US.

And a visit from former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last year triggered China's largest show of force in years, with a series of military exercises involving fighter jets, warships, and the firing of ballistic missiles.

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