The chaos in America is no gift to autocrats

Chinese and Russian media coverage of the current crisis in Washington is designed to fuel nationalistic sentiments in both countries, and to some extent it succeeds at that.

Take this popular post by Global Times showing side-by-side pictures of the storming of the Capitol last week and of the protesters who broke into Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building in July 2019. Here is a comment responding to it that attracted more than 1,000 likes: “The ‘beautiful sight’ that Pelosi favors has finally happened in her own office,” referring to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who had used the phrase to describe not the LegCo break-in but a 2019 vigil in Hong Kong for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The comment also said, “The United States doesn’t have double standards. It simply has no standard for right and wrong.”

At the same time, the chaos in Washington was widely broadcast on both mainstream media and social media in China, and mostly with little censorship, which is unusual. Allowing or even facilitating that flow of information seems to have been a propaganda gambit. But it could backfire for the Chinese government by breeding more fascination with the United States among Chinese viewers, especially if the story in America becomes a tale about the resilience of a democracy’s institutions against a dangerous president.