China, a country with its own ethnic tensions and record of excessive police action, remained quiet during the first week of clashes between protesters and law enforcement in Ferguson, Mo.
That has changed in the last two days. On Monday and Tuesday, the state media of the world’s largest country has stepped up coverage of the Ferguson violence and protests. It has published commentaries accusing the United States of hypocrisy in seeking to be a global guardian of human rights.
“This is probably the largest protest launched by African Americans in recent years,” the Global Times, an English-language offshoot of the People’s Daily, wrote in an editorial Tuesday. “It tells us that racism still overshadows minorities in the US even while they have got a black president.”
A day earlier, a commentary in China’s Xinhua news service struck a similar theme.
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“The Ferguson incident once again demonstrates that even if in a country that has for years tried to play the role of an international human rights judge and defender, there is still much room for improvement at home,” wrote Xinhua writer Li Li.
While state media doesn’t always reflect the views of China’s leaders, strong commentary is rarely published here unless the Communist Party approves.
Global Times, for instance, often publishes editorials in English that are far more critical of the West than those published in state-run Chinese-language media. That suggests that China’s leaders use Global Times and other English-language publications to deliver a message to the West that, for whatever reason, it does not want to play up at home.
In its editorial Tuesday, Global Times said that the United States “owes African Americans historical debts, which has resulted in many racial problems.” In response to those problems, said the editorial, U.S. leaders have employed “a fairly tough approach . . . pushing African Americans to integrate into mainstream society at the cost of destroying their original cultures.”
The editorial made no mention of China’s own ethnic tensions, including recent clashes between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in China’s far-west Xinjiang province. Western human rights groups say China is partly to blame for such clashes by attempting to assimilate ethnic groups such as Uighurs, Tibetans and Mongolians.
More than week after a small-town police officer shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old black man in suburban St. Louis, the Ferguson story has gone viral globally. Middle East protesters have offered Twitter advice to American protesters on how to cope with tear gas. Media in Russia and Iran have criticized treatment of protesters in Ferguson, an obvious attempt to deflect attention from the human rights record of those two countries.
While not a top topic on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, Ferguson is attracting comment from many Chinese netizens.
“How can the ‘heaven of freedom’ institute curfew?” wrote one commentator, Meimei from Beijing. “This is an absolute violation of human rights of the American people! We can’t help but to ask, what right does the police have to shoot a walking man without a reason?”
Another Chinese commentator, Yahai from Dalian, in Liaoning province, said the riot reflected “America’s racial discrimination of yet another time, the stubborn disease of America. . . . When America talks about human rights, it should first settle its own human rights problems.”
Yet some Chinese commentators took a different view, including one that reflected Beijing’s priorities when dealing with unrest.
“America has its own method in dealing with such riots, and has been very decisive and resolute in carrying out the curfew,” wrote Zhang Yiwu, a professor from Peking University. “This means that America’s social regulation is fairly effective. It cannot let itself fall into a mess of anarchy.”
McClatchy special correspondent Tiantian Zhang contributed to this report.