United States Ambassador Scott Brown unleashes on China 'taking away people's ability to think'

The United States' ambassador to New Zealand has scolded China for attacking freedom of speech and "taking away people's ability to think".

North America's National Basketball Association (NBA) found itself in a firestorm this week when the general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, tweeted in support of Hong Kong protesters critical of Beijing's influence in the city.

Morey quickly deleted that tweet, but it's caused a fracture in the NBA's relationship with China as the Chinese Government attempts to crack down on anti-China sentiment. As a response to Morey's tweet, Chinese state television is now dropping coverage of an NBA game taking place in China while the NBA's Chinese partners are cutting ties with the association.

On Friday, the United States' Ambassador to New Zealand, Scott Brown, presented the sports news on The AM Show and was asked for his thoughts on China's behaviour.

"I understand China wanting to control things that happen within their country. You know, they censor, they put people in reconditioning camps, they shut down the internet, they can do whatever they want in their country as far as I am concerned," he said.

"When they attack free speech and the ability for Kiwis and US folks to give their opinion and merely just show support for something - quite frankly in Hong Kong, a lot of people are supportive of their ability to peacefully protest - and then say 'oh by the way we are going to cancel you, we are going to take away your money, you are going to do this, you are going to do that.'

"I agree with what South Park is doing. They are just putting it right back in their face. This is outrageous. This is absolutely outrageous." 

Earlier this week, the creators of the television show South Park issued a mock apology to China after reports the country had scrubbed all South Park content from its streaming and social media platforms following an episode critical of the Middle Kingdom. 

"Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn't look just like Winnie the Pooh at all. Tune into our 300th episode this Wednesday at 10! Long live the Great Communist Party of China... we good now China?" the apology said.

Ultimately, Brown said he didn't view China as an enemy, but a "competitor" that isn't playing by the rules. He said the country was stealing intellectual property, manipulating currency and dumping low-cost, low-quality steel onto the world market.

"They are taking away people's ability to think. They have reconditioning camps. You don't agree with them, they put you in a camp."

Re-education labour camps have commonly been used in China to detain dissenting individuals and often low-level criminals. In China's Xinjiang region, UN experts say at least 1 million Uighurs, a Muslim minority group, have been detained. While Beijing says the camps provide vocational training, experts argue the Uighurs are incarcerated and forced to reject their faith. 

Asked if he was worried about the fallout of making such blunt assessments of China as a diplomat, Brown said he wasn't concerned.

"I am just pointing out what the facts are."

Brown said China can have some positive influence, such as providing beneficial trade opportunities, but he said if you disagree with China, there are negative consequences. His message to the Chinese Government was to play by the rules.