Protesters running amok. Innocent citizens under siege. Outside actors engaging in terrorist acts. Police struggling to maintain control and in desperate need of reinforcements.
That was how Chinese state media portrayed anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year, dismissing calls for greater democracy and an investigation into police brutality by focusing on individual acts of violence and property damage. The widespread unrest, and the prospect of more this year, has been used to justify a new national security bill that will be imposed upon the city by Beijing in coming months.
Washington has fiercely criticized that bill, moving to strip Hong Kong of its special trading status with the United States and threatening sanctions against officials involved in implementing the legislation. Throughout the protests in Hong Kong last year, the US was consistent in its support of people’s right to take to the streets and have their voice heard, and that sporadic violence or illegality did not undermine the core demands or legitimacy of the movement.
Facing widespread unrest and public anger at home in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, the reaction from US President Donald Trump appeared markedly different.
In a barrage of tweets over the weekend, Trump called protesters “thugs,” accused “organized groups” of being behind the violence, blamed the media for fomenting unrest, called for the military to be deployed, and retweeted claims that those behind the unrest were “domestic terrorists.”
It was a response that might not have appeared out of place on the pages of China’s own government-controlled newspapers, and did not go unnoticed by state media pundits and officials in Beijing, some of whom have publicly delighted in watching the unrest unfold in the US, sarcastically calling for solidarity with protesters and pointing out the alleged hypocrisy of their American counterparts.