Former NBA star Dwight Howard apologized for calling Taiwan a country after a statement he made last week upset Chinese social media users.
The NBA All-Star, who now plays for a professional Taiwanese team, in a video released Wednesday joined Taiwan vice president William Lai to promote foreign tourism, during which he referred to the independent island as a country. His comments sparked furor on Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media platform, as the Chinese Communist Party continues to claim Taiwan as its territory. Weibo users, upset at Howard's apparent support for Taiwan independence, demanded an apology. Howard on Friday clarified his statement, caving to Chinese demands.
"Where I'm from, if I say I wanna go to the country, it doesn't not mean that place is a country. It's just how we talk," he told Taiwanese reporters. "If I offended anyone in China I apologize. It was not my intention to harm anyone with what I said in the commercial. … I am not a politician. I don't want to get involved in any politics. … I have the utmost respect for Chinese people and utmost respect for Taiwanese people, so it was never my intent to disrespect nobody."
Howard is not the first in the NBA or entertainment industry to backtrack statements against China. After Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in 2019 posted a tweet in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, the NBA quickly apologized for the "inappropriate comment," which had "undoubtedly seriously hurt the feelings of Chinese basketball fans." Actor John Cena also apologized to the Chinese people for referring to Taiwan as a country while promoting his new Fast and Furious film last year.
In Congress, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and other leaders have repeatedly stood up for Taiwan's independence, calling for more protection for the vulnerable island. McCarthy met with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen in April despite threats from China.
"I'm the speaker of the House," McCarthy said. "There is no place that China's going to tell me where I can go or who I can speak to."
The promotional video that caused such backlash against Howard invited foreign tourists to spend a night at the Presidential Office Building in Taipei.
"Since I came to Taiwan, I've gained a whole new appreciation of this country. This place makes me feel so much love," Howard said in the video, praising Taiwan for its hospitality, "friendly and great living environment," and "great diverse culture."
By Friday, the hashtag "Howard Taiwan independence" was trending on Weibo with 400 million views, before censors removed the full video, CNN reported.