While the United States has been fixated on the death of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown, who was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 9 and the subsequent protests and investigations, China’s government-run news agencies have been relatively quiet. That changed Monday, however, when China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency published a commentary on the situation, calling out America’s major “human rights flaw.”
“In his landmark speech, ‘I have a dream,’ civil rights leader Martin Luther King voiced his strong aspiration for equal rights of the black people in U.S. society,” Xinhua said. “Fifty years later, such a dream has been partially realized.”
The Xinhua commentary details deep-seated issues with racially fueled violence and police brutality in the United States. “It is undeniable that racial discrimination against African-Americans or other ethnic minorities, though not as obvious as in the past, still persists in every aspect of U.S. social lives, including employment, housing, education and, particularly, justice,” the report said.
However, China too has a history of human rights issues, particularly racial and religious marginalization toward the Tibetan and Uighur minority groups. The human rights group Free Tibet said 10 unarmed Tibetans were shot by Chinese officials in Lochung, Kardze, in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, during a peaceful protest related to the arrest of a fellow Tibetan villager. Additionally Uighur populations in Xinjiang province in western China are often persecuted by the government and local officials for practicing Islam or wearing traditional religious garb.
As China battles its own human rights criticisms, it is seeking to highlight criticism of Ferguson and America’s deep racial issues. “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,” the Xinhua report said.
Though the commentary takes a jab at America, the takedown is comparatively subdued. It’s not uncommon for Chinese media to use negative news in other nations to boost domestic public opinion. In the past, Chinese media and government officials have eviscerated the U.S. in the wake of shooting sprees and the recent NSA spying scandal brought forward by Edward Snowden.
But when it comes to Ferguson, the parallels to issues in China may be the reason there has been no full-blown criticism campaign. “The concern is that, if they report it too much, it might set off a response domestically,” Qiao Mu, director of the Center for International Communications Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Wall Street Journal. “The situation is similar to Xinjiang. They don’t want to attract any fire.”
The tepid response by Chinese media was reflected in a similar conversation online on popular microblogging platform Weibo. A search for “Ferguson” on the website would return a mixture of articles referring to the riots, but also hundreds of posts regarding Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s former football manager. Additionally, conversation that was related to Ferguson, Missouri, was largely directed at the militarization of Ferguson police rather than the societal implications of the conflict. While China’s military is equipped with an arsenal of weapons, gun use in general is banned by citizens, and not used by local police forces, a policy that is often highlighted by China when the U.S. sees spates of gun violence.