A wave of mockery erupted in China over the storming of the US Capitol on Thursday, with Chinese media and commenters comparing it with anti-government protests in Hong Kong and accusing Washington of hypocrisy.
Supporters of the US President Donald Trump laid siege to Capitol Hill on Wednesday night in protest against Trump’s election defeat to Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
The protesters were eventually ejected and, in the aftermath, police said they found two pipe bombs. One woman who tried to break through a barricade was shot and later died of her wounds. Three others – a woman and two men – died in separate “medical emergencies”, police said without giving further details.
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In China, state media, officials and online users tracked developments and compared the events with the 2019 anti-government protests in Hong Kong in opposition to a controversial extradition bill.
Photos of the troubled scenes in Washington – including people taking selfies in areas off limits to the public, scuffling with security guards and ransacking of the Capitol building – were shown with shots taken in Hong Kong.
The 2019 movement in Hong Kong was peaceful in the beginning, but turned violent, with protesters storming the city’s legislature on July 1 that year.
On Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the United States should reflect on why it adopted different positions on the two events.
She said the storming of the Hong Kong legislature was more “severe” than the events in Washington, but there were no fatalities among the protesters.
“In ... 2019, radical demonstrators [in Hong Kong] violently stormed the city’s Legislative Council building, wantonly damaged facilities, used toxic powders and liquids to attack and beat the police, and even [allegedly] bit a police officer’s finger off,” Hua said.
“Facing a situation like this, Hong Kong police had kept a high degree of restraint and no demonstrators died.
“Now the US mainstream media had unanimously criticised violent Trump fans in [Washington], saying it’s a violent event and those protesters are mobs, extremists ... But what description did they use on the Hong Kong protest? ‘Beautiful sight’.”
Hua was referring to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comments about mass demonstrations in June 2019 in Hong Kong as a “beautiful sight to behold”. The protests were mostly peaceful at that time but the term has since become part of the Chinese rhetorical phrase book.
Hua said that by hailing Hong Kong protesters as heroes and pledging to “stand with them” while taking a different position and using different labels to actions in the United States “deserves our serious contemplation”, adding that China still hoped the US could restore peace, stability and safety.
In an apparent reference to accusations of police brutality in Hong Kong, the city’s former chief executive Leung Chun-ying asked Hong Kong demonstrators in his social media page, “where do you want to protest, Hong Kong or the US?”.
Leung also asked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whether the US would extradite Brian Leung Kai-ping, a Hong Kong activist who took part in the storming of the city’s legislature and is studying in the US. During the Washington protests, Pompeo tweeted: “Putting at risk the safety of others including those tasked with providing security for all of us is intolerable both at home and abroad.”
Leung Chun-ying also mocked the blocking of Trump’s Twitter account due to “inaccurate and inflammatory posts”, saying it showed the US had no freedom of speech.
Meanwhile, Chinese tabloid Global Times, published under People’s Daily, tweeted side-by-side photos of Hong Kong protesters occupying the city’s Legislative Council in July 2019 and the storming of the US Capitol.
“@SpeakerPelosi once referred to the Hong Kong riots as ‘a beautiful sight to behold’,” the newspaper said in a tweet.
“It remains yet to be seen whether she [Pelosi] will say the same about the recent developments in Capitol Hill.”
Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin also entered the fray, saying: “They are mobs, truly. But if Washington DC is the capital city of a developing country, the American media outlets will definitely give the Capitol riots a name: Washington Spring.”
On Chinese social media platform Weibo, posts under the topic “Trump supporters storm US Capitol” were viewed by 640 million times, with commenters echoing the double standards line.
“US Vice-President Mike Pence said peaceful protest is a right of US citizens but what had happened in the Capitol Hill cannot be tolerated, but when protesters are damaging Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, their remarks are not the same,” one commenter said.
But Hong Kong activists said the two protests were not comparable because the Hong Kong protesters were pressing for democracy and storming a symbol of autocracy.
Chinese media outlets closely followed the protests, with several leading commentators sounding off on the situation, as well as the state of US-China relations.
“When I woke up, Congress had fallen and the US was in chaos!” read the headline of an article on the Weibo account of popular – and anonymous – foreign affairs commentator Bull Playing the Piano. The account is run by an editor for state news agency Xinhua.
“What about law and order in the United States?” he wrote, including pictures of smoke, guns and rioters in the US capital taken from social media outside China’s Great Firewall.
Chinese academics said the differences in the US labelling of events in Washington and Hong Kong reflected ideological divisions.
Lu Xiang, a specialist on US affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said US mainstream media described the occupation of the buildings completely differently.
“We note that the Hong Kong protesters inflicted worse damage on the Legislative Council building than those in the US did on Capitol Hill,” Lu said.
“The US double standard will eventually hurt itself, because when they beautify violence in other places, it is actually fanning its own citizens. The bipartisan hypocrisy on this point is clear.”
Wang Yiwei, a professor of international relations at the Renmin University in Beijing, agreed, saying the US was self-centred and upheld the idea of American exceptionalism, blinding Washington to its own problems.
“This is not only double standard, but the US also acts as an ideological judge to define what is democracy,” Wang said.
“Why would this happen in the US? I think it’s largely because the US is deeply divided, between Democrats and Republicans, between elites and grass roots, between people who benefited from globalisation and people who suffered from it.”
Additional reporting by Keegan Elmer
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