In recent days, China has more aggressively stirred up nationalist and anti-Western sentiment using state and social media, and it has manipulated the context of images and videos to undermine the protesters. Chinese officials have begun branding the demonstrations as a prelude to terrorism.
The result, both in mainland China and abroad, has been to create an alternate version of what, seen from Hong Kong, is clearly a popular demonstration movement. In China’s version, a small, violent gang of protesters, unsupported by residents and provoked by foreign agents, is running rampant, calling for Hong Kong’s independence and tearing China apart.
This narrative almost certainly reflects that of the country’s leaders, including Xi Jinping, and it is fueling misunderstanding — and, increasingly, anger — among the Chinese public. That could, in turn, raise pressure on the government, increasing the risk of an overreaction or miscalculation based on limited or inaccurate information.