Beijing revels in scenes of U.S. unrest

Foreign Affairs

Chinese state media and diplomats, including multiple spokespeople of the Chinese foreign ministry, appeared to take delight at a weekend of protest on American streets.

“On May 31, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, police require several women to get out of a car.” Xinhua News Agency featured this photo and caption on its Chinese-language home page today. Photo by Angus Alexander/Xinhua.

Chinese state media and diplomats, including multiple spokespeople of the Chinese foreign ministry, publicly delighted over the weekend in the scenes of protest and violence on American streets following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis a week ago.

“Chinese propaganda outlets played up scenes from the U.S. of violence, burning buildings, harsh police responses and protesters decrying government as part of a broader narrative that western democracies are regularly plagued by chaos and unrest that would never be permitted in the mainland,” Bloomberg reports (porous paywall).

The U.S. protests expose a “failed state,” said the Global Times, which also wrote that Floyd’s murder “exposes rotten racism in the U.S.,” and published a commentary in Chinese titled “The U.S. is a country of deeply marginalized and vulnerable groups.” The China Daily wrote two editorials about “Systemic racism, inept administration…in U.S.” and how “Racism stains U.S. claims to greatness.”

Comparisons to Hong Kong and accusations of hypocrisy were also common. Chinese state media and foreign ministry figureheads trolled American officials, accusing them of double standards.

  • “I can’t breathe,” tweeted foreign ministry spokesperson Huà Chūnyíng 华春莹 on Saturday, May 30, quoting the words of Floyd and a protest slogan, in response to her American counterpart criticizing China’s national security law in Hong Kong.
  • “Why does the U.S. refer to those ‘Hong Kong independence’ and black-clad rioters as ‘heroes’ and ‘fighters’ but label its people protesting against racial discrimination as ‘thugs’?… This double-standard way of behaving is so typical of the U.S.,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 today.
  • The Global Times troll-in-chief Hú Xījìn 胡锡进 tweeted an image of violent clashes with police and commented, “The ‘beautiful sight’ defined by U.S. politicians has eventually extended from Hong Kong to the U.S. Now they can witness it by their home windows. I want to ask Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Pompeo: Should Beijing support protests in the U.S., like you glorified rioters in Hong Kong?”
  • Hu also published an editorial titled Watch out! ‘Beautiful sight’ in HK is spreading across the U.S., and followed up with an apparently sarcastic tweet suggesting, “Vicious HK rioters obviously are mastermind of violent protests across the U.S.”

Obviously, it can be true that both protesters in Hong Kong and the U.S. have legitimate political grievances and that police have used excessive force in response to each movement. But Trump is making it easier for Beijing to ignore that when he responds to U.S. protests with language that echoes Chinese state media on Hong Kong, as James Griffiths points out in CNN:

In a barrage of tweets over the weekend, Trump called protesters “thugs,” accused “organized groups” of being behind the violence, blamed the media for fomenting unrest, called for the military to be deployed, and retweeted claims that those behind the unrest were “domestic terrorists.”

The blaming and trolling will only get worse in the coming days, as Trump has retweeted calls for “overwhelming force” to be used against “bad guys,” and prominent Republican senator Tom Cotton has called for the U.S. military to crack down directly on protesters. “No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters,” Cotton tweeted, in what China-watcher Bill Bishop called “Manna for CCP propaganda.”