China revels in US protests, sees unrest as PR opportunity

The unrest in the US over George Floyds death in custody has been seized by China and renewed discourse on “the end of the American era”. But Hong Kongs defiant demonstration this week suggests Washingtons fall may not be Beijings gain.


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The scenes unfolding on US streets this week, with federal and local law enforcement officers viciously cracking down on anti-racism protesters, have been particularly distressing for Hong Kongs pro-democracy activists.

Since Beijings shock announcement last month of a plan to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong, attention was fixed on June 4, an important date on the semi-autonomous territorys political calendar.

>> Read more on Beijings bid for a new security law on Hong Kong

For three decades, Hong Kongers have held massive candlelight vigils to mark the anniversary of Chinas 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, an event strenuously overlooked on the mainland.

This year, in what many viewed as a symbolic display of Beijings tightening control, Hong Kongs Legislative Council was scheduled to vote on a contentious national anthem bill on June 4. The Legislative Council – dominated by pro-Beijing lawmakers since the semi-autonomous city does not have universal suffrage – was expected to approve the bill, which it duly did following an opposition boycott of the vote and symbolic protests inside the chamber.

Tiananmen anniversary commemorations were also banned this year, officially due to the Covid-19 crisis, but the territory of 7.5 million residents were braced for a mass show of defiance. On Friday evening, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers knocked down barriers around Victoria Park, the territorys landmark gathering point for demonstrations, to hold a candlelit vigil.

The June 4 event at Victoria Park was expected, some would say even scripted, although there was no certainty about the number of demonstrators it would attract. What was not anticipated this week was a showdown thousands of miles away, in the capital of “the land of the free”, on Lafayette Square, the public park right by the White House.

The scenes in Washington DC on Monday, of federal law enforcement officials cracking down on protesters demanding justice for George Floyd – an unarmed African American killed under police custody – to make way for President Donald Trumps photo-op before a church sparked widespread criticism.

The nightly unrest on the streets of several US cities, fueled by heavy-handed security responses, has drawn condemnations from across the world, including the European Union and the UNs human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet. The scenes of tear gas fumes engulfing streets, police firing rubber bullets, beating up and arresting protesters and journalists have been distressing for many Americans and non-Americans. But for many Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who have been staging protests against Beijings tightening control of the territory, they were distressingly familiar.

“The repression in the US looks exactly like the repression in Hong Kong. If you put pictures from the two places together, you cant tell the difference,” said Dorian Malovic, Asia editor of French daily, La Croix, and author of several books on China. “Its very unfortunate for Hong Kong people, for the civil rights movement and democrats. Unfortunately, the events in the US are neutralising whats happening in Hong Kong. It gives credibility and the green light to Beijing to continue the repression. For Beijing, its perfect, its milk and honey.”

Raw meat for Chinas wolf warriors

Its also raw meat for Beijings aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomats named after a Chinese blockbuster about a commando who kills American baddies with his bare hands. And it couldnt have come at a better time for the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

>> Read more about Chinas wolf warrior diplomats

Chinese diplomats have seized on the unrest in the US to hammer home CCP talking points of a violent, racist, imperialist power that has double standards and is structurally hypocritical.

“The racial discrimination against minorities is a social ill in the United States. What happened again reflects there are serious problems that should be urgently addressed,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing.

Zhao, a former Chinese ambassador to Pakistan, is widely regarded as the “alpha male” of the “wolf warrior” pack and has been retweeting a volley of taunts against the US, including a post by the editor of state-owned daily, Global Times, noting, “I want to ask Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Pompeo: Should Beijing support protests in the US, like you glorified rioters in Hong Kong?”

The 'beautiful sight' difined by US politicians has eventually extended from Hong Kong to the US. Now they can witness it by their home windows. I want to ask Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Pompeo: Should Beijing support protests in the US, like you glorified rioters in Hong Kong?

— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) May 30, 2020

While Beijing views Hong Kongs pro-democracy protests as the product of “foreign interference,” its gloating diplomats overlook the fact that US envoys have not opposed Black Lives Matter protests across the world and have issued statements mourning Floyds tragic death and reiterating the US position that no one is above the law.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosis comment last summer that the Hong Kong protests were "a beautiful sight to behold" has been a particular gloating point, with the Global Times editor inviting US politicians to "enjoy this sight from their own windows".

Hua Chunying, another Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, took the schadenfreude to new heights when she retweeted a statement by US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus blasting the Chinese Communist Party for “flagrantly” breaking its promise “to the people of Hong Kong”. Hua added a three-word comment: “I cant breathe”.

Those were Floyds last words as Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on the unarmed black mans neck on a Minneapolis street. It was also the dying plea of New Yorker Eric Gardner in 2014, which became a slogan of the Black Lives Matter movement against racism and police brutality in the US.

American dream, racial nightmare

Americas systemic racism, born out of slavery and persistent police brutality against African Americans despite countless protests, investigations and policy recommendations, has long been the subject of intense national soul searching. In the George Floyd case, the extent of the brutality, captured on mobile phones and disseminated within minutes across the world, has deepened a mass anguish that was simmering over Trumps divisive policies and compounded by the Covid-19 crisis.

The Trump administrations disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic was already being compared to the US leadership role during earlier epidemics, such as Ebola and AIDS, with headlines proclaiming, “Another Virus Victim: The US as a Global Leader in a Time of Crisis”.

The latest unrest has renewed discourse on the “end of the American era,” amid questions of how the American dream of opportunity for all has failed the countrys most vulnerable and marginalised. Protests over the killing of yet another unarmed black man by a white US police officer have erupted across the globe, reflecting what critics called the erosion of Americas moral authority on the world stage.

It comes at an opportune time for Beijing as its global power grab in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak backfired with the unraveling of Chinas “mask diplomacy” amid questions of cover-ups, exports of faulty health devices and a backlash against “wolf warrior” diplomacy.

>> Read more on the unmasking of Chinas Covid-19 mask diplomacy'

Concerns over Beijings handling of the outbreak and its hold on the World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN agencies resurfaced this week when the Associated Press reported Tuesday that China failed to share the genetic map of the virus more than a week after it was decoded.

While the UN health agency was publicly praising Chinas early public health response, internal documents and emails reveal immense frustration among WHO representatives over Beijings obfuscations with a senior WHO official exasperatedly proclaiming, “theyre giving it [the genetic code] to us 15 minutes before it appears on CCTV,” referring to the state-owned China Central Television.

>> Read more on Chinas hold on the WHO and UN agencies

Sit this one out

The latest unrest in the US has given Beijing a fresh chance to seize the narrative by portraying a violent implosion of a declining power turning its back on the magnanimity and multilateralism that defined the postwar global order. China views itself as a natural replacement, ready to extend its strategic influence with its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and strengthen its hold on multilateral institutions that have been a favourite punching bag fRead More – Source