Arrest of 3 UCLA basketball players in China could complicate Trump's deal-making

A day before Donald Trump arrived in Beijing for crucial talks, China arrested three prominent African-American athletes.  It would be awful if this became a racial issue today back home.  A new element could be introduced into the deal-making at the heart of the presidential mission to East Asia, and these youths have a following.  They all have headshots from UCLA:

LiAngelo Ball.

Cody Riley.

Jalen Hill.

ESPN  broke the story on air (video here).  Jeff Goodman writes:

Three UCLA men's basketball players – including LiAngelo Ball, the younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball – were arrested in China just days before Friday's season-opening game against Georgia Tech in Shanghai, sources told ESPN's Jeff Goodman.

One source told ESPN the group of players – which also included freshmen Cody Riley and Jalen Hill – was arrested on shoplifting charges.

The players are being questioned about stealing from a Louis Vuitton store that is located next to the team's hotel in Hangzhou, where the Bruins had been staying before moving on to Shanghai on Wednesday.

I can't pronounce them guilty, but I would be shocked if there were not video evidence of the alleged behavior, whatever it turns out to be.  This was no spur-of-the-moment arrest:

One source told ESPN that nearly 20 police officers came into the Hyatt Hangzhou at approximately 8 a.m. local time Tuesday and spoke to multiple players from both Georgia Tech and UCLA. The players, according to the source, were kept in a room for hours and not allowed to speak to any of the coaches.

"They weren't messing around," the source told ESPN. "The kids were scared."

Meanwhile, the team has moved on to Shanghai.

If the Chinese wish to use this incident for bargaining leverage (and why wouldn't they?), they could exchange lenient treatment of the matter, as an "administration violation," which sounds non-criminal.  But either way, the three men can be held quite a long time, as Dan Wetzel explains:

What they face now bears little resemblance to the legal system of the United States. The three men could be detained for more than a month without American-style bail before local prosecutors even decide whether to press charges, according to William Nee, a Hong Kong-based researcher of the Chinese court system for Amnesty International.

Nee said it is not uncommon for a defendant to wait 30-37 days before being officially indicted. Among those indicted, Chinese prosecutors enjoy a 99.2 percent conviction rate, according to Nee's research.

While it is unknown exactly what the players are being detained for, Chinese law calls for a fine and between three to 10 years in prison for anyone convicted of "robbing public or private property using force, coercion, or other methods." The case could also be dropped to the lower "administration violation" rather than robbery, which would lessen any potential penalty including prison time, according to Jeremy Daum, an attorney and research fellow at Yale Law School's Paul Tsai China Center based in Beijing.

President Trump is virtually forced to bring up the matter.  Even if there is no immediate clamor for him to do so, if he fails to bring it up, he will be roundly criticized as racist and inhumane.  "If those boys were white..."

I realize that many African-Americans resent the behavior of Asian shopkeepers, who they feel give them obnoxiously close scrutiny.  So I worry that these arrests could revive unpleasant associations and memories for some people. 

We won't hear anything from the boys or their families for a while.  They have been counseled that there is no upside to speaking out.

I think the University of California needs to examine what travel orientation or training, if any, was given to these kids being sent into an intense and alien culture.  Were they prepared to be openly stared at everywhere they went?  Were they warned about how intense that can be?  In other words, did anyone tell them how to behave in trying circumstances in an alien culture?  Was there anyone available to them capable of explaining local sensitivities while they are in China?  UCLA makes millions off of these amateur players every year.  My understanding is that basketball is particularly profitable for the ostensibly nonprofit university.

I have trained many executives on how to behave when they are in East Asian cultures.  They went to the trouble of engaging my services because millions of dollars had to be at stake to make it worthwhile.  These basketball players are the key assets of a multimillion-dollar business of the University of California.  I would like to know how it prepared them for their foreign mission. 

Janet Napolitano is president of the University of California.  She is responsible for university policies.