Today marks the second anniversary of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, a case of violence and discrimination in law enforcement that saddened, angered and horrified the world. Remembrances and reflections are planned across the United States, and President Joe Biden will reportedly mark the day by signing an executive order mandating new use-of-force rules for federal law enforcement that will prompt local police departments to implement similar changes.
China’s state-run media are also commemorating the anniversary today. Not, mind you, out of respect for Floyd, or out of genuine concern for the safety and well-being of Black Americans. The Floyd anniversary is an opportunity to sucker punch the United States on its human rights record – precisely as global attention turns to the question of human rights in Xinjiang and the visit to the region this week by the UN’s human rights commissioner, Michelle Bachelet.
In a perfect choreographing of whataboutism on Monday, a Reuters reporter asked Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) for details about Bachelet’s visit during a regular press conference. Wang gave up nothing, saying only that Bachelet “will have broad exchanges with people from various sectors.” But when the official China News Service, directly under the CCP’s United Front Work Department, followed immediately after with a question about a recent Washington Post survey showing that 75 percent of Black Americans were fearful of hate crimes, Wang went on for several minutes, laying out a litany of human rights abuses.
“The ethnic minorities in the US have long suffered prevalent and systemic discrimination, which is a deep-seated illness of the US society,” said Wang. “Ethnic minorities including the Indigenous people, the people of African, Latin American and Asian descent, and Muslims, have long been victims of racial discrimination.”
Hitting numerous online channels in China today is a lengthy feature from the Guangming Daily, published by the Party’s Central Propaganda Department, that exploits the George Floyd case on the occasion of the second anniversary to expose what it calls “the death of human rights in the United States” (美国人权之殇). “Looking back at these two years, we can see right through the 246-year history of the United States to the real truth about American human rights,” the story reads. “After each storm in history passes, the tower of American human rights collapses back to its original form.”
True to form, the People’s Daily today devotes a strongly-worded commentary to the George Floyd anniversary. Attributed to “Zhong Sheng” (钟声), an official pen name used routinely for important pieces on international affairs on which the leadership wishes to register its view, the commentary is called “Minorities ‘Can’t Breathe’: Racism Runs Through the US Political System.”
On a day when Bachelet travels ineffectually across Xinjiang, offering foreign-friend photo ops for the state-run press (even as newly leaked police files detail the horrors of the region’s internment camps), the CCP’s flagship newspaper turns the voice of the UN on the United States. The “Zhong Sheng” commentary quotes UN Special Rapporteur E. Tendayi Achiume as saying that the US justice system “has failed to address racial injustice and discrimination.”
“Two years after the violent police killing of Floyd, the systematic racism in American society still makes many minorities feel ‘unable to breathe,’” the commentary concludes. “This is the reality of human rights in the United States. The US should face up to its own systemic racism and avoid the recurrence of human rights tragedies.”
Today much of the coverage and commemoration in the American and international press will indeed be about looking back and facing up. It will be about acknowledging – insufficiently and imperfectly, no doubt – the changes that must happen to make the United States a fairer society free of fear.
For China’s leaders, these painful reflections will be minted into further ammunition to volley back at the United States and the West, gainsaying the “irresponsible remarks” of foreign politicians who seek to smear China.
In the most callous abuse of his memory, George Floyd will be exploited to distract from criticism of China’s own very real human rights problems.