If Beijing was looking for an angle when it comes to hitting back against the myriad accusations behind a hodgepodge of pending, punitive legislation in Washington, the unfortunate (to put it mildly) events unfolding across multiple US states are fortuitous.
Violent protests in America (and the event that prompted them) afford Beijing an opportunity to claim hypocrisy. How, Party mouthpieces might ask, can US officials feign concern for the plight of the Uighurs and other minority Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, when white police officers continue to kill unarmed African Americans in broad daylight?
In addition, Beijing can point to differences among protesters in the US (i.e., juxtapose non-violent demonstrators with those destroying property and resorting to theft) and draw a parallel with the situation in Hong Kong.
After all, the Party can now say, new national security laws set to be implemented in the city are aimed at putting an end to the same kind of violent demonstrations now sweeping America.
Multiple videos from Saturday’s dramatics in some of America’s largest cities depict what appear to be questionable tactics employed by authorities. In one instance, an NYPD SUV rams a group of protesters who hemmed the vehicle in, and a viral video shows police firing marking-paint canisters at non-protesters standing on their front porch in a residential neighborhood.
Last year, a multitude of US officials condemned the use of anti-riot tactics by Hong Kong police.
In a somewhat foul Twitter exchange, Mike Pompeo attempted to get out ahead of what are sure to be charges of hypocrisy by autocratic regimes globally. America’s top diplomat fired back (figuratively speaking) at Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, who, after tweeting about the necessity of eradicating racism globally, posted an altered version of an old press release from Pompeo.
The following is indicative of what the State department can expect to hear from authoritarian regimes the US has condemned for crackdowns on violent protests and human rights abuses.
Pompeo’s response was characteristically ham-handed. So much so, in fact, that I won’t quote it directly because it’s inflammatory and not at all befitting of an American diplomat, even to the extent it’s true. Suffice to say Pompeo accused Iran of heinous violence against women, homosexuals and religious minorities.
As I hope is clear, I feature Zarif’s tweet not to celebrate his legendary penchant for clever trolling (something he shares with Tehran’s allies in Moscow), but rather to give you a sense of how domestic unrest in the US is likely to play into worsening tensions between the US and China.
Beijing usually eschews the kind of canny “Whataboutism” employed by Zarif (and perfected by Russia’s Maria Zakharova), for blunt, almost cartoonish accusations of duplicity.
In October, for example, Hua Chunying (a spokeswoman in Beijing with a flair for the dramatic) responded to Mike Pence’s long-delayed foreign policy speech aimed at the Chinese. “The US has already abandoned and cast aside its morality and credibility”, Hua chided, lambasting America for ignoring racism and perpetuating gross inequality. “We hope these Americans can look at themselves in the mirror to fix their own problems and get their own house in order”.
Six months on, and America’s “house” is in the same kind of “order” as everyone else’s – namely, it’s quite messy, and you can expect Beijing to say as much.
Over the weekend, the People’s Daily said Trump’s speech at the White House on Friday constituted “gross interference” in China’s internal affairs and warned that the administration’s actions are “doomed to fail”. A front-page commentary on Sunday charged US politicians with “double standards” and attempting to institute “shameless hegemony”.
Obviously, China’s decision to implement mainland national security laws in Hong Kong is about more than quelling this particular bout of unrest in the city. It’s about doing away with “one country, two systems” altogether. The very concept is antithetical for a leader like Xi, and the duration and scope of the 2019/2020 protests in the city makes it wholly untenable.
As for Iran, the idea that Zarif presumes to lecture anyone on human rights is, of course, laughable, but as I’m always careful to point out, there are many respects in which Iran is a far freer society than Saudi Arabia. And when it comes to state-sponsored terrorism, it is Sunni extremism that plagues the whole of humanity, not Shia militias, which are more regional scourge than existential threat.
In any event, look for China to capitalize off social unrest and domestic discord in America as the war of words between the world’s two superpowers continues to escalate in the new week.