Beijing Exploiting Floyd Protests to Stoke Tensions, Undermine US, Experts Say

June 1, 2020 Updated: June 2, 2020

The Chinese regime is exploiting the unrest across America to attack the United States and divert attention away from its tightening grip over Hong Kong, experts say.

Over the past few days, Chinese diplomats and state-run media have taken to social media, heaping criticism on the United States over its handling of ongoing protests over the police custody death of George Floyd, which have recently descended into violence in dozens of cities across the country.

Floyd died on May 25 after a police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on May 30 responded to a tweet by the U.S. State Department decrying the regime’s encroachment into Hong Kong by writing: “I can’t breathe,” quoting what Floyd was caught on video saying before he died.

Hua’s message came one day after President Donald Trump announced that the administration would be revoking Hong Kong’s economic privileges as a result of the regime imposing a national security law on the city. The move, Trump said, showed that the regime had broken its word to allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy when sovereignty was transferred from Britain to China in 1997.

Beijing has not yet formally responded to Trump’s decision, but state-run outlets have ramped up their coverage of the U.S. protests, quick to make comparisons between the U.S. protests and the ongoing pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Hawkish state-run newspaper Global Times on Saturday ran a commentary titled: “Watch out! ‘Beautiful sight’ in HK is spreading across the U.S.” The headline was a dig at remarks made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last year when she said the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong were “a beautiful sight to behold.”

U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien on Sunday called out Hua’s “trolling” of the U.S. state department, adding that he saw tweets from Chinese diplomats taking pleasure in witnessing the chaos in America.

“Our foreign adversaries are going to take advantage of this crisis to sow discord and to try and damage our democracy,” O’Brien told ABC.

Never Let a Crisis Go To Waste

The crisis is a “propaganda gift” to the communist regime, which is currently drawing widespread condemnation over its encroachment into Hong Kong’s autonomy, said Helle Dale, a senior fellow for public diplomacy at Washington-based think tank The Heritage Foundation.

Beijing has “been handed the situation on a platter and they’re making the most of it,” Dale told The Epoch Times. “They’ll do whatever they can to fan the flames of the problems we have.”

It is attempting to turn world opinion against the United States, shift opinions domestically, as well as stoke racial tensions to exacerbate the crisis, she said.

Gordon Chang, China expert and author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” said that while the Chinese regime’s specific goal is to shift the global conversation away from Hong Kong, its propaganda efforts form part of a multi-decade campaign to undermine the United States.

The regime is “trying to go after the U.S. and tar our reputation in general,” Chang said. “Their real goal is to destroy the United States.”

Dale said that the regime has proven itself to be “quite nimble in taking advantage of current events,” and has ramped up its global propaganda efforts since the CCP virus outbreak. During the pandemic, Beijing sought to deflect attention away from its responsibility in causing the virus’s worldwide spread by spreading disinformation about the virus origins and portraying the regime as an exemplar in global containment efforts.

Weaponizing Social Media

Robert Spalding, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Hudson Institute and the author of “Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept,” said authoritarian regimes like China are weaponizing social media platforms to sow chaos and discord in the United States.

The regime is likely using bot networks on Twitter to amplify messages that incite people to join the unrest, he said, citing recent research showing that bots play a critical role in shaping the conversation on the pandemic. Analysts at Carnegie Mellon University found that 40 percent of the discussion around COVID-19 came from bots. Those accounts formed 82 percent of the top 50 influential re-tweeters, and 62 percent of the top 1,000 re-tweeters. Spalding said a review of the current discussion on the protests would likely lead to similar results.

“The social media environment will provide an easy platform for state actors to incite more activity [in the protests],” Spalding told The Epoch Times. “They’re using these platforms to increase the scale of the violence.”

Attacking Democracy

U.S. officials have decried Beijing’s attempts to equate the Hong Kong protests with the unrest in the United States. The Chinese regime has consistently described the city’s pro-democracy protesters as “rioters” who need to be suppressed.

“These are completely different,” Pompeo told Fox News on Sunday. ” We have the rule of law. We have decent Americans all across this country who are troubled by what happened, and they have the opportunity to speak freely about that. None of that exists inside of China. The Chinese Communist Party prevents that kind of freedom of expression.”

Meanwhile, O’Brien pointed out that the difference between the United States and its foreign adversaries is that, “When this happens, we’ll get to the bottom of it and we’ll clean it up. It’s not going to be covered up. And this wasn’t done on behalf of the Party or on behalf of the state.”

Dale called out the hypocrisy behind some of the regime’s remarks on the Floyd protests. Hua on Monday wrote in a tweet: “All lives matter. We stand firmly with our African friends. We strongly oppose all forms of racial discrimination and inflammatory expressions of racism and hatred.”

Dismissing the tweet as “opportunistic,” Dale pointed to the regime’s extensive human rights abuses against ethnic minorities, as well as its own record on police brutality.

Civil unrest in the United States feeds into the regime’s message that its authoritarian model is superior to democratic governance, K. T. McFarland, the former deputy national security adviser, told The Epoch Times’ “American Thought Leaders” program.

“They’re pointing to all of these things, whether it was the economic crisis in 2008, whether it’s the pandemic, whether it is the American demonstrations, looting on the streets, whether it is the impeachment trial,” McFarland said. “And they’re saying, ‘See, we don’t have these problems in China. Democracies have these problems, free-market systems have these problems.'”

She added, “The more divisive America looks and the more pictures of Americans looting on the streets … all of these things, it just feeds into that Chinese narrative.”

Follow Cathy on Twitter: @CathyHe_ET