Following protests and demonstrations sparked by the death of an African American man George Floyd due to excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel, comments in China have called the US out for its double standards, mockingly calling the US riots “a beautiful sight to behold” — a throwback to June 2019, when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used the phrase to describe the Hong Kong riots. However, academics observe that the Chinese authorities have been measured so far, indicating that Beijing does not want to get drawn into US domestic politics and worsen conflict with Washington, amid already tense China-US relations.
China and the US have been tussling over issues such as trade, Huawei, the source of the coronavirus, and Hong Kong, which has added to the hostility of the general population in China towards the US. The chaos in the US has become fodder for China’s social media, with some Chinese netizens seeing it as time for “revenge”. One Weibo user wrote: “The US government deserves getting what it asked for.”
“When riots happen in other countries, US politicians call it ‘a beautiful sight to behold’ and stir up trouble. But when a minority race in their own country legitimately protects their rights, they can’t wait to suppress it. Such hypocritical double standards is disgusting.” - Weibo user
Many Chinese netizens are reminded of last year’s Hong Kong protests. They are sharing video clips and photos and mocking the US with “a beautiful sight to behold”.
The few voices who have spoken out against gloating have been shot down by other netizens. And for running a commentary headlined “Riots and Violence Are Never a ‘Beautiful Sight to Behold’ Anywhere, at Any Time”, The Beijing News was criticised for being pro-US.
Mainstream media in China criticises US double standards
Global Times editor Hu Xijin — an advocate of the tit-for-tat approach — wrote yesterday on Weibo that Pelosi made the “beautiful sight” comment in support of those stirring trouble in Hong Kong, and it was cheered by US politicians, so Chinese people now have the right to use that phrase on those US politicians.
China’s mainstream media has made a theme out of criticising US double standards. Two days ago, CCTV ran a sharp international commentary alleging that the US is now getting a taste of its own medicine. It quoted a netizen who wrote, “When riots happen in other countries, US politicians call it ‘a beautiful sight to behold’ and stir up trouble. But when a minority race in their own country legitimately protects their rights, they can’t wait to suppress it. Such hypocritical double standards is disgusting.”
The comments on People's Daily also say the US engages in “doublethink” — accepting contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, as in the book 1984 by George Orwell — and that “whether romanticising the Hong Kong protestors or vilifying the Hong Kong police, there is only one intention: to create a plausible excuse to interfere in China’s internal politics.”
Chinese authorities restrained in addressing US domestic chaos
Compared to the sharp criticisms from the Chinese people, the Chinese authorities have been relatively measured so far.
Addressing comments about external forces influencing the US and the gloating of China’s internet community, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stressed at yesterday’s regular press briefing that China does not interfere in other countries' domestic affairs, and is opposed to all violent and illegal activities.
However, he criticised US double standards in referring to "Hong Kong independence" and black-clad rioters as "heroes" and "fighters" but labelling its people protesting against racial discrimination as "thugs"; he also noted the US had “so many problems with the restrained and civilised way of law enforcement by the Hong Kong police but [had] no problem at all with threatening to shoot at and mobilising the National Guard against its domestic protesters”.
... the messy situation in the US gives China the moral high ground, but China is avoiding taking the chance to ridicule the Trump administration. - Li Mingjiang, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University
Associate Professor Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Nanyang Technological University said China is taking the opportunity to remind the US not to have double standards, but has not linked the chaos in the US to its political system or domestic governance. This is very different from how US politicians often criticise China’s system and governance, and even challenge the legitimacy of China’s ruling party.
"...staying restrained, not adding fuel to the fire, also shows the maturing of China’s diplomacy.” - Associate Professor Cheng Xiaohe, School of International Studies at Renmin University of China
He thinks that the messy situation in the US gives China the moral high ground, but China is avoiding taking the chance to ridicule the Trump administration. “The authorities have obviously decided that doing so would at most be a cheap shot without any real benefit, and may even damage China-US relations,” he said.
Associate Professor Cheng Xiaohe of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China reckons the situation in the US is complex, with anti-racism, looting, partisan competition, as well as conflict and extremism in domestic politics.
He said, “It is wiser to avoid being drawn into US domestic politics and giving others a handle… staying restrained, not adding fuel to the fire, also shows the maturing of China’s diplomacy.”