2017-11-16 12:12:51

The return home of three American college basketball players who were allegedly caught shoplifting has raised questions in China of whether they were given a free pass.

The trio — LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill, all freshmen at the University of California, Los Angeles — were arrested Nov. 7 on suspicion of having stolen Louis Vuitton sunglasses and other items during their stay in Hangzhou, eastern China. They missed the Nov. 11 basketball game they’d come to China to play, and stayed behind when the rest of the team flew back.

Fortunately for the players, their alleged antics coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia. During the China leg of his trip, which started Nov. 8, Trump reportedly raised the matter with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. Days later, the players were spotted at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, on their way back to Los Angeles.

Trump tweeted about their return on Tuesday, writing: “Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!”

After their return, the players apologized during a press conference. “I’d also like to thank President Trump and the United States government for the help that they provided,” said LiAngelo Ball, younger brother of NBA player Lonzo Ball.

To American observers, the series of events was problematic, and in China, too, net users wondered whether the case had been handled differently because of the players’ high profiles.

“So where did China’s rule of law go?” read one highly upvoted comment on microblog platform Weibo, referring to a political concept that the Communist Party has been promoting since 2014.

On basketball forum Hupu, one popular commenter asked why the whole case had been handled so secretively. “Tell the public whether they admitted their mistakes, or if they paid damages,” they wrote. “Is that really so difficult?” But others pointed out that police rarely publicize details about petty crimes.

Still other net users saw the players’ release as a political opportunity for China to ask a reciprocal favor of the U.S. Referring to China’s campaign to repatriate people suspected of corruption, one commenter wrote: “Don’t make a fuss. Don’t you know how many people on the red notices [Interpol extradition] list are hiding in the U.S.?”

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: UCLA basketball players LiAngelo Ball (right) and Cody Riley return from China, where they were detained by police for shoplifting, Los Angeles International Airport, California, U.S., Nov. 14, 2017. Lucy Nicholson/VCG)