As Protests Engulf the United States, China Revels in the Unrest

The cartoon shows the Statue of Liberty cracking into pieces, a police officer breaking through its copper robe. A man’s head lies on the ground in front of the White House, its facade splattered with blood.

“Beneath human rights,” says the title of the cartoon, which was published by People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, and circulated widely on social media sites this week.

“The violent protests in the streets of urban America are further discrediting the U.S. in the eyes of ordinary Chinese,” said Susan Shirk, chair of the U.C. San Diego 21st Century China Center. “The propaganda depicts American politicians as hypocrites living in glass houses while throwing stones at China.”

Ms. Shirk said that as the reputation of the United States suffers in China fewer people might be willing to voice support for American ideals, such as free markets and civil liberties.

“Even without the propaganda, Chinese people nowadays find little to admire in the U.S.,” she said. “As the U.S. model is tarnished, the voice of Chinese liberals is silenced.”

“When it comes to their country’s security, they attach great importance,” she said at a regular news briefing. “When it comes to my country’s security, especially regarding Hong Kong’s current situation, they’ve put on tinted glasses.”

Chinese officials, wading into the complex racial politics of the United States, have sometimes struggled with striking the right note.

A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, was widely praised in China recently when she wrote “I can’t breathe” in response to a critical Twitter post by an American official.

But she had less success with a post on Monday, when she wrote “All lives matter,” apparently unaware she was embracing a slogan that has been used in the United States to criticize the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Chinese officials have used the protests to revive favorite propaganda themes, including the idea that the United States acts as a bully on the world stage, meddling in the affairs of other countries. Hong Kong has been a particular point of contention, with many news outlets in China pairing images of burning buildings and flags in American cities alongside comments last year by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, praising demonstrations in Hong Kong. Ms. Pelosi said the city’s protests were a “beautiful sight to behold.”

The editor in chief of Global Times, Hu Xijin, said that the attacks were to be expected given the intense criticism of China by American officials over the past year.

“It’s a kind of vengeful feeling, which I think is human nature,” he said in an interview. “Americans shouldn’t be unhappy about it.”

Mr. Hu said the unrest in the United States, as well as the failures in the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, had strengthened confidence among many Chinese in Beijing’s political system.

“It has made them believe that the government of this country really cares about people’s lives and well-being,” he said. “They see how the U.S. government and capital despise the lives and interests of vulnerable and marginalized groups.”

Nationalism has been in full force in recent days on the Chinese internet, with many people taking to Weibo, a popular microblogging platform, to denounce the “arrogance” of the United States and Mr. Trump. Hashtags about the American protests, including the decision to deploy the National Guard in some cities, are among the most popular topics on the site.

Some worry that the propaganda campaign may further inflame tensions between the two countries. He Weifang, an outspoken law professor in Beijing, said that even some critics of the government are becoming more sympathetic to the official line.

“Any Chinese with a brain,” he said, “would not simply look at it as China being so successful and the U.S. being a failure.”

But, he added, “with the terrible compression of space for free speech, many people’s heads are gradually broken.”

Elaine Yu contributed reporting from Hong Kong. Albee Zhang and Claire Fu contributed research.

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