Chinese officials and state media outlets have savaged the Trump administration’s response to violent protests raging across the US, describing the president as a hypocrite after he supported Hong Kong’s demonstrations.
In a tweet directed at US state department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, who said the Chinese government had “flagrantly broken its promises to the people of Hong Kong” with its plan to impose a new security law in the territory, her counterpart at China’s foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, wrote “I can’t breathe”.
Those were the final words uttered by George Floyd, the African American man whose death while being detained by Minneapolis police officers sparked violent confrontations in dozens of US cities.
“After just three days of rioting in Minneapolis President Trump threatened to shoot protesters,” a commentary in the nationalist tabloid Global Times observed, in a reference to the president’s tweet that “when the looting starts the shooting starts”.
By contrast, the newspaper noted, in more than six months of often violent demonstrations in Hong Kong, just one protester had been shot when he allegedly struck the arm of an officer who had drawn his service revolver in self-defence. The protester survived.
On the same day that Beijing criticised the US, police in Hong Kong banned a mass vigil on Thursday to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Police cited Covid-19 restrictions for banning the annual gathering.
Lau Cha-kei, a Hong Kong policeman whose dramatic stand-offs with protesters last year made him a hero in mainland China, said on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent: “When the same situation [in the US] happened in Hong Kong last year, [our tough police response] was called suppression of freedom.”
Twitter is blocked by China’s “great firewall” internet censorship regime, although Ms Hua and other “wolf warrior” diplomats routinely use it to fire back at US officials and other critics.
For Chinese government officials and the propaganda organs they control, the scenes of chaos across the US were perfectly timed.
On Friday, Mr Trump had attempted to focus the world’s attention on the punitive measures he was directing at China for allegedly undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy with a strict new national security law. Within 24 hours however, global headlines were dominated by the violent scenes from the US.
Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, also mocked comments by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who said the protests in Hong Kong were “a beautiful sight to behold”.
“The ‘beautiful sight’ defined by US politicians has eventually extended from Hong Kong to the US,” Mr Hu said on Twitter. “I want to ask Speaker Pelosi and Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo: should Beijing support protests in the US like your glorified rioters in Hong Kong?”
Nationalist commentators on Chinese social media largely echoed government and state media criticism of the Trump administration’s Hong Kong policy in light of the riots erupting across the US.
Other Chinese internet users, however, noted the irony that Beijing’s diplomats and media outlets could take to Twitter while they legally could not.
Ordinary citizens have to use special software, which is widely used but technically illegal, to evade China’s internet censorship regime. In response to Ms Hua’s tweet of Mr Floyd’s tragic utterance, some responded on Sina Weibo with the observation “I can’t tweet”.