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China and The Cavs

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COMMENTS

27 August 2009 10:43

Christopher Croke is an intern in the Global Issues program at the Lowy Institute.

Often lost amid the public hand-wringing of foreign policy heavyweights brooding over the intentions of a rising China are the smaller stories of China's relentless enthusiasm and appetite for Western (and more specifically, American) culture.

This week, the biggest basketball star in the world, LeBron James, kicked off his 2-month Nike-sponsored 'world tour' (look out U2!) in front of 1200 eager fans at the Beijing Chaoyang Gymnasium.

LeBron's appearance in China is partly about promoting his and Nike's brands to the biggest basketball market in the world but it's also about pleasing his employers. In late May, a consortium of Chinese businessmen purchased a 15% stake in LeBron’s team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It was hard to miss the irony. Once a hub of America's industrial heartland, Cleveland (like its near neighbour, Detroit) has long struggled to adapt to the demands of a globally competitive economy. Jobs have been lost, factories closed and demographic decline has set in. A February study revealed that Ohio has lost 262,383 jobs since 2000 (approximately 5% of its total workforce). Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, lost 11% of its total workforce in the same period.  

In the eyes of many Ohians, the culprit has been ever-obvious: low-wage Chinese competition. While the exact number of jobs lost to China remains uncertain, one labour advocacy groups suggests that well over 100,000 of jobs have disappeared due to price pressure from low-cost Chinese imports. 

Yet when it came to the Chinese purchasing one of the region's cultural icons, fans breathed relief more than fire. Notably missing was the cultural xenophobia and fear-mongering that characterised the popular reaction to the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation’s attempt to buy Unocal in 2005 or DP World's attempts to purchase US ports in 2006. Is Chinese investment in America better spent on sporting franchises than dodgy debt instruments?

As LeBron's entourage travels through China (Shenyang yesterday, Shanghai tomorrow) to assuredly large and adoring crowds, it is hard to forget the inescapable attraction of America's cultural exports. Even to the Chinese.

Photo by Flickr user jmb1977, used under a Creative Commons license.

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