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China-US relations

UCLA basketball players’ China shoplifting scandal barely noticed by mainland media

Even US President Donald Trump’s direct appeal to Xi Jinping to settle the matter failed to generate much interest among mainland news outlets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 2:38am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 9:23pm

The saga of the three UCLA men’s basketball players who were detained in China on suspicion of shoplifting – leading to a direct appeal by US President Donald Trump to President Xi Jinping in Beijing to settle the matter – drew little attention in mainland Chinese media.

LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were detained in Hangzhou for questioning amid accusations of shoplifting before the team beat Georgia Tech in its season-opening game in Shanghai as part of an annual China game. Ball is the brother of Lonzo Ball, star of the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Lakers.

The rest of the University of California, Los Angeles, team returned home without the three.

A few mainland sports channels, citing US news outlets, reported on social media that the trio embarrassed themselves by being detained by police for what they said was stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next to the team’s hotel.

Police required the players to remain at their luxury Hangzhou hotel on bail. The players returned to Los Angeles on Tuesday night.

Only one local newspaper, the Modern Express, which covers Nanjing, the capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province and the surrounding communities, showed interest in the case. A published article detailed the paper’s inquiries with store salesmen to establish that the three players were together at the time of the purported theft. The sunglasses on sale ranged in price from 4,000 yuan (HK$4,714) to 5,000 yuan (HK$5,893), the paper reported.

LiAngelo Ball and UCLA basketball players fly back to US after shoplifting scandal in China

Mainland media also remained quiet about Trump’s intervention in the matter, which reportedly expedited the players’ release and return home. If the visiting US leader made deals with or exerted pressure on his Chinese counterpart, Xi, accounts of the efforts never made mainland media headlines.

Trump’s involvement seemed to be the only aspect of the incident that interested the mainland’s denizens of the internet.

Hundreds left comments under a video clip posted on Weibo of the players being chased by reporters at the Los Angeles airport. Many questioned how the players could be released from detention so soon after shoplifting from a luxury store.

One user, Guoguo Ruien, asked why the media had reported little about the shoplifting and the Hangzhou police had declined to issue a statement. He questioned how the accused players could walk free when stealing from a luxury store would constitute theft.

Donald Trump asks if UCLA basketball players will thank him for saving them from jail in China

“There should be a statement if they didn’t shoplift,” he wrote. “If they did steal but walked free … what a country by the rule of law!”

Another commenter, NY-bber, said “they should be punished according to law rather than being given preferential treatment. This is a country based on the rule of law, not the rule of people. They shouldn’t be released so casually”.