The events on Capitol Hill were always going to be met with schadenfreude — perhaps even glee — amongst autocracies in one-party states. They suddenly had the best ammunition they could have hoped for. From Turkey and Zimbabwe to Russia and Iran, state media and spokespeople latched on, turning the language often thrown at them back at America — calling for ‘restraint’ and ‘dignity’.
For the Chinese government, which has been no stranger to violent mass movements in recent years, the analogy was obvious. Hong Kong’s legislature had been stormed just last year, with pro-democracy activists forcing their way into the building and vandalising the walls with anti-Beijing slogans. Beijing always referred to this in terms of mobs and criminality — while America spoke of pro-democracy protesters. Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, shared this video yesterday:
— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) January 7, 2021
Their point is that the West is a pot calling the kettle black; that police brutality happens at home when violence breaks out, that its own democracy is not worth the name.
On WeChat, China’s state-monitored messaging app, comparison videos and pictures are being widely shared, making much of the West’s ‘double standards’. This picture, sent to me by a Hong Konger who is critical of the protests, compares CNN’s reporting of the two events side by side: the pro-Trump supporters are called ‘rioters’, whereas the pro-democracy camp are mere ‘protestors’.
Meanwhile, a video, which uses footage from the Black Lives Matter protests, has also resurfaced on social media to make much the same point.
Criticism from Western media has long been a chip on the shoulders of the Chinese government, it’s so-called ‘wolf warriors’ and their supporters. The charge of double standards is so frequently brought up as to be a cliché when talking to Beijing apologists. With these share-ready videos and memes making the rounds, it’s easy to ignore the nuances of the situation, the reasons why these parallels aren’t accurate. Of course the left-leaning CNN will be critical of Trump supporters and use harsher language; meanwhile, the twenty-somethings driving the Hong Kong protests certainly didn’t have guns and bombs at their disposal, as the crowd on Wednesday did. Not to mention, of course, the difference in their causes.
But in the age of social media — the eroding effects of which are as pervasive to the Sinosphere as in the West – there is no space for nuance. As Mitt Romney said, Wednesday’s events will be a gift to all non-democratic governments. It’s a gift that, in China, is already being gratefully seized upon with both hands.
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