The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

China is having a field day with U.S. Capitol chaos

Pro-Trump protesters storm the U.S. Capitol during clashes with police on Wednesday. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
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As democratic governments around the world reacted with horror to President Trump supporters’ storming of the Capitol, China’s official propagandists could barely contain their schadenfreude.

If you don’t allow the storming of your own legislature, they asked, how could you support it in Hong Kong?

It was an illustration of how Trump’s subversion of American democracy has provided cover for authoritarian governments like China’s. Beijing has found the chaos incited by Trump a convenient defense for its authoritarian policies and iron-fisted suppression of dissent.

“We hope that the American people can enjoy peace, stability and security as soon as possible,” China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was cited in state media saying Thursday, turning the tables on Western governments’ regular expressions of concern for the welfare of China’s people.

Leaders around the world condemned the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and reaffirmed their faith in American democracy. (Video: The Washington Post)

Chinese propaganda outlets seized on Wednesday’s breaching of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob to castigate U.S. politicians for their support of violent protesters in Hong Kong who broke into the city’s legislature in 2019.

U.S. allies react in horror to Capitol assault, while rivals express degree of glee

“@SpeakerPelosi once referred to the Hong Kong riots as ‘a beautiful sight to behold’ — it remains yet to be seen whether she will say the same about the recent developments in Capitol Hill,” the nationalistic Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times posted on Twitter.

For many Western observers, the two scenarios were different in kind. In Hong Kong, protesters who were demanding the right to elect the city’s leaders tried to stop an extradition bill they viewed as an alarming step in China’s erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms. In the United States, Trump supporters on Wednesday were seeking to prevent a peaceful transfer of power to the rightfully elected next president.

Chinese state media did not go into such distinctions, simply finding in the U.S. example a justification for China’s crackdowns on dissent. Beijing has long argued its restrictions on its people’s freedoms were necessary to prevent chaos, and the unrest in the United States under Trump has played into that narrative.

The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection ran a commentary by political columnist Lan Linzong, saying that the U.S. image as a “beacon of democracy and freedom” has been shattered.

‘Total submission’: With mass arrests, China neutralizes Hong Kong democracy movement

“This ‘beautiful sight’ is just one of many outbreaks resulting from deep-rooted internal conflicts in America,” she wrote.

#TrumpSupportersStormCapitol was trending on Chinese social media platform Weibo on Thursday, with some 54,000 posts and 500 million views as of early afternoon local time.

For China’s government, the unrest in Washington has also been useful as a distraction from its offensives in Hong Kong. On Tuesday evening U.S. time, as Americans were gripped by the Georgia runoff election, Hong Kong authorities effectively neutralized the city’s remaining democracy movement, arresting 53 former lawmakers and activists, including an American lawyer.

In quieter times, the arrest of an American human rights attorney in China would have drawn widespread attention. During the 2019 Hong Kong democracy protests, the fate of the city had topped headlines for days.

But the Hong Kong crackdown was quickly overshadowed by the storming of the Capitol, which threw the U.S. government into an unprecedented crisis. As U.S. officials debated if the president should be removed from office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s late-night statement that the United States would consider further sanctions against Hong Kong’s government hardly drew notice.

By Thursday afternoon, China’s top leaders had yet to directly comment on the U.S. situation. The country’s centralized bureaucracy is often slower than other nations to issue an official stance on current events.

The Chinese embassy posted a warning about the Washington violence and curfew on Wednesday, telling Chinese citizens to be careful of their safety and to consider avoiding crowded places.

“In case of danger or emergency, please call the police in a timely fashion,” the embassy's statement said.

Lyric Li in Beijing and Alicia Chen in Taipei contributed to this report.

Trump supporters storm U.S. Capitol, with one woman killed and tear gas fired

‘Total submission’: With mass arrests, China neutralizes Hong Kong democracy movement

World stunned by subversion of U.S. democracy after pro-Trump throng breaches Capitol