A prominent democracy advocate in Hong Kong said that the United States had fallen far in his eyes after crowds of President Donald Trump’s supporters descended upon Capitol Hill on Wednesday, while officials in mainland China were quick to point out a so-called “double standard” in the words that U.S. officials used to describe protests in Hong Kong versus those on American soil.
“It’s very sad for us in Hong Kong to see mobs attacking Capitol Hill and trying to overthrow the election results,” Lee Cheuk-yan told The Associated Press in a story published on Friday. “We in Hong Kong are fighting for a democracy in which everyone has a right to vote. But when we look at the U.S., it’s now a subversion of the will of the people by violence.”
Lee, who served on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council from 1995 to 2016 and organizes an annual vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, said that the U.S. had become a “laughingstock,” and this carried unfortunate connotations for other regions following in America’s footsteps.
“The most damaging part is that the democratic world has been weakened, and when that happens it strengthens the hand of authoritarian rulers from all over the world,” Lee said.
Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous territory that was handed over by the U.K. to mainland China in 1997 and has seen a slow but steady encroachment of Communist Party authority on its local government ever since.
The city became enflamed by tense pro-democracy and pro-independence protests in 2019 as locals took to the streets en masse against a controversial bill that would potentially see lawbreakers extradited to mainland China.
While this bill was ultimately withdrawn, a national security law was suddenly instituted in June 2020, criminalizing a broad variety of acts. The law — generally interpreted as a means for Beijing to supersede Hong Kong’s government and crack down on protesters — has led to the arrest of major figures such as media tycoon Jimmy Lai as well as prominent youth activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow.
The U.S. flag was occasionally spotted in Hong Kong’s 2019 protests, waved by protesters as both a democracy symbol and a cry for U.S. aid. Appearances of the flag provoked ire from Communist Party officials and state media, who accused the U.S. of instigating a “color revolution” within the city.
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s crisis on Capitol Hill, Chinese state media outlets immediately made comparisons between the storming of the Senate and the storming of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council by protesters in July 2019 — an event that was praised at the time by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “a beautiful sight to behold.”
A Chinese-language editorial on the Global Times website harped on what it called a double standard, dubbing the storming of Capitol Hill an “iconic humiliation,” while Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying chimed in on the matter on both Twitter and during a media conference, asking why there was “such a stark difference in the choice of words” used to describe the two protests.
“Everyone needs to seriously think about it and do some soul-searching on the reason,” she said.
While the incidents in the Capitol and in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council appear similar upon first glance, one key difference is that the protesters in Hong Kong were fighting for the right to cast their vote — while the throngs on Capitol Hill, spurred on by Trump’s unsubstantiated conspiracy theories of voter fraud, were fighting because they refused to accept the results of a vote.
“I would just observe that those in the U.S. were acting from a position of privilege and grievance, and trying to overturn the results of a valid election, while those in Hong Kong were an oppressed population demanding the right to have a fair election,” Hong Kong-based author Antony Dapiran, who has written extensively about the city’s protests, told Quartz.
In fact, on the same day as the pro-Trump mobs stormed the Capitol, 53 Hong Kong activists were arrested within the city due to its national security law, including many democracy proponents and former lawmakers.