Chinese officials and state media have seized on news of the protests sweeping the US, comparing the widespread unrest to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and accusing Washington of hypocrisy.
Mass protests spread across multiple US states over the weekend, many escalating after police responded with teargas, pepper balls and other projectiles, and in some instances using vehicles to ram protesters. Some cities have seen arson and looting, and across the nation police have been criticised for using excessive force.
The protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd, an African American man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
The US protests follow almost a year of highly visible and significant pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, where police are also repeatedly accused of using excessive force.
The US administration has been vocal in support of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, particularly since Beijing’s declaration it would impose national security laws on the semi-autonomous region.
After days of chaotic scenes in the US, on Sunday China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying posted “I can’t breathe” – Floyd’s last words – to Twitter, with a screenshot of her American counterpart criticising China’s crackdown on Hong Kong.
Fellow ministry spokesman, Lijian Zhao retweeted numerous comments and reports on the protests, including from Russia’s deputy representative to the UN, accusing the US of double standards. “Why US denies China’s right to restore peace and order in HK while brutally dispersing crowds at home?” said Dmitry Polyanskiy.
State media has also revelled in the scenes of unrest unfolding in the US.
“US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once called the violent protests in Hong Kong ‘a beautiful sight to behold.’… US politicians now can enjoy this sight from their own windows,” Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of nationalist tabloid Global Times, wrote on Saturday.
China has often highlighted problems in the US to hit back against criticisms of its own human rights record, including treatment of minorities or most recently its handling of protesters in Hong Kong.
Beijing has repeatedly blamed “foreign forces”, including the US for inciting and driving the Hong Kong protests.
On Sunday, Hu said Hong Kong protesters were “obviously” behind the American demonstrations. “I highly suspect that Hong Kong rioters have infiltrated American states,” he wrote, earning him accusations of peddling conspiracy theories.
I highly suspect that Hong Kong rioters have infiltrated American states. Attacking police stations, smashing shops,blocking roads, breaking public facilities, these are all routine in their protests. Vicious HK rioters obviously are mastermind of violent protests across the US😡— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) May 31, 2020
In a series of tweets and editorials over the weekend, Hu and his paper accused the US of hypocrisy.
“Mr President, don’t go hide behind the secret service,” said Hu. “Go to talk to the demonstrators seriously. Negotiate with them, just like you urged Beijing to talk to Hong Kong rioters.”
In another tweet he said both protests defied the law, subverted order, and were destructive, but that Hong Kong’s were seen as justified by the US, while those in the US were unjust.
He said Chinese people believed the US unrest was retribution for US government support for Hong Kong. “The Chinese government has not shown any support for the riots in the US. I hope that Americans notice Beijing’s restraint.”
The Twitter account of the Global Times has also published clips from the US protests, including one of a police vehicle ramming into protesters in New York city. The caption read: “Peacekeepers or mass murderers?”
Additional reporting by Lillian Yang