Chinese officials have seized on the mob attack in the U.S. Capitol to justify the crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, whose supporters stormed the city’s legislature in 2019.
Chinese diplomats have publicly compared the chaotic scenes from Washington D.C. on Wednesday with photos of Hong Kong protesters breaking into the city’s legislative building in July 2019 to demand democratic elections and police accountability.
“Under similar circumstances, some people in America and some media outlets have had completely different reactions,” China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday. She tweeted a video of the storming of the Hong Kong legislature shortly after making those remarks at a press conference.
Chinese officials have had no trouble leaning into protest violence when it suited them—they deplored the anti-government unrest in Hong Kong in 2019 but supported the anti-government unrest there in 1967, when rioters attacked British colonial authorities.
But this time, they have chosen to ignore the context and compare the stormings of the halls of U.S. Congress and Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, continuing an opportunistic tradition of defending its authoritarian rule by equating disorder with democracy.
“From the propaganda perspective, this is an ideal moment to show that the U.S. is in turmoil,” Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, told VICE World News.
He said the political contexts of the protests at legislatures in the U.S. and Hong Kong are different, with one aiming to sabotage a democratic process while the other was to demand democracy.
“The commentaries help solidify public support on what happened in Hong Kong. It is fundamentally a way to justify the authoritarian crackdown,” Yang said.
President Donald Trump has made Chinese propagandists’ job easier over the last four years by undermining international trust in the United States. In a Pew survey of American-allied countries last year, Trump scored a confidence rating (16 percent) lower than that of President Xi Jinping of China (19 percent) and President Vladimir Putin of Russia (23 percent).
Trump’s refusal to accept Biden’s victory, culminating in his Wednesday incitement of supporters using false claims of electoral fraud, provided further propaganda fodder to a Chinese government eager to protect its grip on power from critics and democracy advocates.
These advocates included the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers who in 2019 joined street protests against a now-withdrawn bill to allow extraditions to mainland China, fearing that it would subject residents in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory to unfair trial. The protests turned into a broader campaign for government accountability and universal suffrage.
The shocking violence by Trump’s loyalists is now cited by Chinese diplomats to justify the police crackdown in Hong Kong and highlight the hypocrisy of American politicians.
Hua, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, said while four people have died at the pro-Trump protests at the Capitol, no Hong Kong protesters were killed. She said that demonstrated the restraint and professionalism of Hong Kong police. According to the D.C. police chief, one woman was shot by an officer, while three people died of medical emergencies.
Chinese state-run media, including the nationalistic tabloid Global Times, have sarcastically called the protests and riots in Washington “a beautiful sight,” referring to House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s previous comments on Hong Kong.
Pelosi called Hong Kong’s annual June 4 candlelight vigil “a beautiful sight to behold” during a congressional hearing on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and used that phrase again to describe a largely peaceful demonstration against the extradition bill on June 16. But Chinese state media have promoted the misinformation that Pelosi was praising protesters’ violent acts, such as damaging government buildings and throwing petrol bombs.
Hong Kong’s Legislative Council said it spent more than HK$38 million ($4.9 million) repairing the building, but opinion surveys suggested that the vandalism did not hurt popular support of the overall protest movement. In local elections four months after the storming of the Legislative Council, politicians supporting the protests won in a landslide.
A 26-year-old Hong Kong supporter of the protests, who gave her name as Chia, said it was “nonsense” that the Chinese government was drawing an equivalence between what happened in Washington and her home city.
“Hong Kong protesters are fighting for the right to elect our leaders,” she said. “But the Americans are trying to overturn the results of a fair election.”
Beijing has since cracked down on the pro-democracy movement with a new national security law. Earlier this week, Hong Kong authorities used the law to carry out the biggest series of mass arrests of opposition leaders since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Alan Wong contributed reporting.