In Depth

George Floyd protests: how Russia and China are exploiting US race riots

Rival superpowers deflecting criticism by pushing propaganda about Western hypocrisy

Riots in the US sparked by the killing of George Floyd have fuelled international condemnation of racism and police brutality in Donald Trump’s America.

But while most international leaders are calling for peace, Russia and China are seizing on the opportunity to mock and goad the US and its president.

What has Russia said?

Ivan Kurilla, an expert on Russian-American relations at the European University in St Petersburg, claims that Russian officials are “enjoying” and exploiting the protests as an excuse to criticise the US and push their own propaganda, reports The New York Times (NYT).

Pointing to saturation coverage of the US riots on Russian state television, Kurilla said: “The Kremlin line is that peaceful protests always escalate into riots. They want to portray all peaceful protesters as criminals. This is why they use all these pictures from the US.” 

President Vladimir Putin has said the US protests reveal deep internal crises in the rival nation, reports Russian news agency Tass.

“What has happened [in the US] is the manifestation of some deep domestic crises,” Putin said during a TV interview last week. “It seems to me that the problem is that group party interests in this case are placed above the interests of the entire society and the interests of people.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has lamented “a real tragedy, an American tragedy”, and demanded that the US protect the rights of its citizens instead of criticising Moscow.

The US “simply cannot have any questions for others in the coming years”, said a ministry spokesperson.

Meanwhile, “the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, sanctioned by the United States as a violent brute responsible for torture and extrajudicial killings, said this week that he was ‘horrified’ by the brutality of the American police”, says the NYT.

And China?

Following the first weekend of rioting in the US, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian urged the US to end racial discrimination and protect the lawful rights of minorities, as The Guardian reported at the time.

“The death of George Floyd reflects the severity of racial discrimination and police brutality in the US,” said Zhao. “How come US politicians called rioters in Hong Kong heroes, but when it’s happening in America they’re labelled thugs?”

Zhao has shared numerous tweets about the demonstrations, including a post in which Russia’s deputy representative to the UN accuses the US of double standards. “Why US denies China’s right to restore peace and order in HK while brutally dispersing crowds at home?” wrote Dmitry Polyanskiy.

Fellow ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying has posted “I can’t breathe” – Floyd’s last words – above a screenshot of her US counterpart criticising the Chinese crackdown in Hong Kong.

Accusations of hypocrisy have also been levelled by Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper.

“US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once called the violent protests in Hong Kong ‘a beautiful sight to behold.’… US politicians now can enjoy this sight from their own windows,” he wrote soon after the unrest first began.

Indeed, Hu has been one of the leading Chinese voices mocking the US and its president, in a series of tweets and editorials.

“Mr President, don’t go hide behind the secret service,” he tweeted last month. “Go to talk to the demonstrators seriously. Negotiate with them, just like you urged Beijing to talk to Hong Kong rioters.”

Other Chinese media has been equally critical. State TV has aired endless images of the violence while accusing the US of mishandling both the demonstrations and the coronavirus pandemic, reports Washington D.C.-based news site NPR.

One broadcaster recently said: “American politicians must ask themselves, on what grounds do they spew their sanctimonious nonsense? Shouldn’t they ask the American people for forgiveness?”


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