Enes Kanter Freedom, the NBA player, says he will accept a visit to China – as long as he can see “the real China”, rather than “propaganda”.
On Monday, at a news conference in Beijing, former NBA player Yao Ming was asked about Freedom’s recent activity. Yao, the current president of the state-affiliated Chinese Basketball Association, responded, “If there is an opportunity, I would like to invite him to visit China…then he might have a more comprehensive understanding of us.”
Freedom — the Boston Celtics center who officially changed its last name in November — is outspoken about human rights and has used its social media presence to criticize China’s treatment of the Uyghur community, among a number of other social issues.
The US State Department estimates that up to 2 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang province since 2017, though China has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights abuses.
“I want to say thank you to Mr. Yao Ming… I actually want to go to China and see everything with my own eyes,” Freedom told CNN correspondent John Berman on The New Day. “But on this trip, I would like to ask Mr. Yao Ming, will I be able to visit the labor camps?”
He added, “I don’t need a lecturing across China, and I don’t want publicity. I actually want to see the real China and show the whole world what’s going on. So, yeah, I actually take his offer.”
Freedom has also previously raised awareness of China’s treatment of Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and recently called for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The 29-year-old’s comments sparked a backlash in the Asian country, where Celtics games were pulled by Chinese video streaming site Tencent and Freedom’s comments were criticized by the government.
“I want everyone to know that the Chinese Communist Party does not represent the Olympic essence of excellence, friendship and respect,” he continued. They are a brutal dictatorship. They threaten freedoms and do not respect human rights.”
Earlier this week, the Golden State Warriors distanced themselves from comments made by part owner Chamath Palihapitiya, who said on a podcast that “no one cares what happens to the Uighurs.” He added, “It’s nice that you care, but the rest of us don’t.”
The Warriors said in a statement that Palihapitiya “does not have day-to-day operating positions” with the team and that “his views certainly do not reflect those of our organization.”
For his part, Freedom called Palihapitiya’s comments “incredible”, adding, “It was pathetic, it was disgusting and I was definitely so ashamed of it.”