The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s propaganda machine stepped up a gear this week, mocking the United States after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Congress building in Washington as it prepared to vote on endorsing President-elect Joe Biden’s win in November’s elections.
The Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid with close ties to CCP mouthpiece the People’s Daily, ran a slew of op-ed and opinion articles accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy after its politicians supported the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
It was especially keen to make a comparison with Wednesday’s attack on Congress and the storming of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) in a bid to secure universal suffrage and fight plans to extradite alleged criminal suspects to mainland China.
One article cited comments from Chinese internet users referring to “karma” in a reference to perceived U.S. support for the storming of LegCo, while state broadcaster CCTV’s headline ran: “Mob storms Capitol Hill, U.S. democracy smashed!”
State-run news agency Xinhua was more measured in its coverage, reporting on outrage and shock at the attack, and quoting European and Canadian leaders’ condemnations of the violence.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing on Jan. 7: “Some people in the U.S. reacted and used very different words to what happened in Hong Kong in 2019 and what took place in the U.S. today.”
Hua referred to “a beautiful sight taking place in the U.S.” in an apparent reference to U.S. House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi’s description of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement as “a beautiful sight.”
A Beijing-based academic who declined to be named for fear of reprisals said state media had given lavish coverage to Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters that left four people dead, including a police officer.
“They are deliberately confusing the reasons, demands and nature of the two incidents,” the academic said. “For example, gangsters will break in to your home, and so will firefighters — to fight fires.”
“No honest person would confuse those two things.”
Former Hong Kong lawmaker Nathan Law, now exiled in the United Kingdom, said the Hong Kong protesters had been fighting for social justice, and had run a disciplined and careful operation when they stormed the LegCo chamber on July 1, 2019.
Posting photos of messages left by protesters to warn others not to damage books and other items, Law said protesters had also left money for cans of soda taken from the cafeteria.
“Don’t mess things up around here. We are not rioters,” one hand-scrawled message read.
“They were demanding an unelected government to implement a fair and open electoral system. These mark the differences,” Law wrote on his Twitter account in response to the parallels being drawn by CCP supporters online and in the media.
Differences in legitimacy
U.S.-based commentator Hu Ping, honorary editor-in-chief of the online magazine Beijing Spring, said Hua was deliberately trying to obliterate the differences between the two situations.
“The first thing [Hua is doing is trying to] erase the fundamental difference between Hong Kong and the United States, which is that the latter is a democratic system and the other has no democracy,” Hu told RFA.
“[She is also ignoring the fact that] the U.S. government has never expressed support for violent protests.”
Zhao Sile, a researcher at the Asian Law Center of Georgetown University in the United States, said there was no comparison between the levels of legitimacy of the two protests, even though they may appear similar to the casual observer.
“The sense of legitimacy is completely different when you look at the goals and demands of the protesters from a point of view of human rights and democracy,” Zhao said.
He said Hua’s take on the storming of the Capitol could still gain considerable traction among CCP supporters and in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Chinese diaspora in the U.S., however.
In Taiwan, the United Daily News, which supports the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), which advocates closer ties with China and which operated an authoritarian, one-party state in Taiwan under decades of martial law, also drew a parallel between the storming of the Capitol and Taiwan’s 2014 Sunflower movement, during which peaceful demonstrators occupied the island’s parliament in protest over a trade deal struck between the KMT and China.
Taiwan-based historian Catherine Chou said the paper was “the 1st (?) major Taiwanese outlet to compare the events in DC with the Sunflower Movement in order to…you guessed it…shame [Democratic Progressive Party president] Tsai Ing-wen as anti-democratic,” Chou wrote on Twitter.
In an op-ed article titled “Whose side is Tsai Ing-wen on?”, the paper hit out at Tsai for failing to condemn the 2014 occupation of the island’s Legislative Yuan equally.
“Never mind the KMT also occupied the legislature last year,” Chou tweeted.
Scoring political points
Beijing-based political commentator Zha Jianguo said many in China saw the incident as an opportunity to score a political point against Washington, which has sanctioned Chinese and Hong Kong officials linked to a crackdown on political opposition, peaceful protest and free speech in the city.
“Some Chinese took the opportunity to attack the social order and democratic procedure in the U.S, but the two countries have completely different political systems,” Zha said.
“In China, people have no democracy, nor any right to demonstrate,” he said. “Given that the U.S. already has democracy, the question should be how they can do better.”
Beijing high-school teacher Li Xiangqun agreed.
“There is no way that this would happen [here],” Li said. “Anyone attacking key organs of state would be shot dead, no question.”
Hebei-based independent scholar Ding Jie said the key thing was that the violent protest hadn’t manage to break the separation of powers.
“The separation of powers, of the three branches of government, is intact,” he said. “Presidential power is still subject to checks and balances.”
“This powerful ability of the U.S. to heal itself depends on them not concealing social and political divisions,” he said.
Reported by Jane Tang, Qiao Long and Wang Yun for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Malik Wang and Hoi Man Wu for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.