Trump, Tiananmen and the Chinese exile divide over the Capitol siege

Linda Lew
·4-min read

Several prominent Chinese dissidents have doubled down on their support for US President Donald Trump, comparing those who stormed Capitol Hill in Washington last week to the Tiananmen Square student protesters in 1989.

Some also repeated unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud and staged riots meant to pin the blame on Trump, angering others in the exile community.

On Twitter on Thursday, Li Jinjin, a former Peking University student leader who took part in the 1989 movement, compared the Trump supporters who laid siege to the Capitol to students involved in the 1989 protests, in response to descriptions of the former as a “mob” or “thugs”.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

“Who are the mobs? The students also occupied Tiananmen Square in 1989, the Communist Party also called them mobs? If they didn’t pick up a weapon, then they weren’t violent,” wrote Li, now a lawyer in New York.

“If they broke the law, then they should be arrested but they’re not mobs,” he wrote, referring to the Trump supporters.

Li told the South China Morning Post that he was not comparing the Capitol Hill siege to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest but that the people from the two events, Trump supporters and the student protesters, were of “similar nature”, in that they were both carrying out a political struggle.

They were not seditious, nor were they “domestic terrorists”, he said.

Another critic of the Communist Party, economist He Qinglian retweeted unverified claims that the Capitol Hill siege was infiltrated by people from the anti-fascist movement known as Antifa, and that it was planned in advance by the left.

She also compared the law enforcement officers trying to end the siege to Beijing’s suppression in Tibet in the 1950s and of the 1989 protest.

Several rioters who broke into Congress have been identified as Trump supporters and not Antifa as some have falsely claimed, according to fact checks by media outlets such as Associated Press.

China one of many gripes for Trump supporters in Capitol siege

Trump is popular among a number of Chinese dissidents, including blind activist Chen Guangcheng and artist Ai Weiwei, who applaud him for standing up to the party by launching a trade war in 2018 and introducing sanctions against Chinese officials and companies.

But Zhou Fengsuo, a US-based human rights activist and a former Tiananmen student leader, said it was “very inappropriate” to draw parallels between the events in Washington and those in 1989.

Zhou said the Chinese students were demanding rights such as the vote while in the US people could vote and there was a relatively sound legal system.

“I remember clearly in 1989, even in the worst situation including when Beijing implemented martial law, the students never stormed the Great Hall of the People,” Zhou said, referring to the building where China’s rubber-stamp legislature meets.

“In fact, the students tried their best to maintain order and prevented attempts to break into any public buildings around the square.”

Zhou, who co-founded the NGO Humanitarian China, added that no one person could claim to represent the community.

He also said that of Trump and president-elect Joe Biden, he preferred Trump as Biden’s foreign policy seems to be a repeat of the Obama era.

““I don’t like the direction of Biden‘s foreign policy, especially the appointments to his foreign policy team, which is worrying. The Biden team is essentially the Obama team,” Zhou said.

Teng Biao, a human rights lawyer and legal scholar based in the US, said it was infuriating and absurd to see the comparison between the two events more than three decades apart, especially from activists involved in the 1989 protests.

“Influential Chinese figures have been creating or spreading fake news in order to support an American president with dictatorial tendencies, this is a really worrying trend for the future of China,” Teng said.

Government reactions to George Floyd protests, Tiananmen Square not ‘morally equivalent’, says US state department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus

Former Beijing resident Sun Liyong also took part in the 1989 protests and spent seven years in jail for subversion after starting an underground pro-democracy magazine. He settled in Australia in 2004.

Sun, 60, said that even though Trump did not care about human rights abuses in China, he was hawkish about Beijing – and had Sun’s support.

If there had been a second Trump term, the outgoing president would have been really tough on China due to the pandemic, which had hit the US hard, he said.

Sun said that despite all the debate between the activists playing out on social media, some remained friends offline.

“The division in the Chinese dissident community caused by this US election pains my heart,” Sun said.

“The election has ended. Friends should still be friends. We need to keep fighting for democracy in China. The democratisation of China does not rely on the US or the West. No one is reliable but ourselves, the Chinese people.”

More from South China Morning Post:

This article Trump, Tiananmen and the Chinese exile divide over the Capitol siege first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2021.