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Russia, China spin election strife in US to justify domestic oppression

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

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Russian police officers July 15 in Moscow detain a man protesting the results of a July 1 referendum. The vote approved reforms to the Russian constitution. They enable President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036. [Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP]

Officials in Russia and China issued public statements expressing their glee over the election violence that broke out in the United States on Wednesday (January 6) and spun the news to justify their ongoing campaigns of repression in their own countries.

The Kremlin released no official comment, but state television offered extensive late-night coverage of the attack on the US Capitol, with the footage of the violence set to dramatic, orchestral music.

"The celebration of democracy in the US has ended. It has, unfortunately, hit rock bottom, and I say this without a hint of gloating," Konstantin Kosachyov, chair of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian parliament's upper chamber, said in a post on Facebook.

The blame for the storming of the US Capitol rests with the US system, said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

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Chinese police in Hong Kong September 6 arrest protesters rallying against the government's postponement of the legislative council election and against the national security law used to silence domestic dissent. [Dale de la Rey/AFP]

Russian, anti-democratic norms

In contrast to any sort of democratic norms, Russian President Vladimir Putin has acquired the power to be "president for life", and new legislation grants Putin and his family immunity from prosecution for any crime committed during their lifetimes, and exceptions from searches, arrests or questioning.

Any spark of opposition in Russia is snuffed out swiftly and lethally, as evidenced by the recent failed attempt to poison Alexei Navalny.

Russian commentators have long gleefully pointed to divisions in the United States, while the Kremlin has fostered those divisions with a campaign of interference and disinformation, including alleged attempts to disrupt the 2016 election.

Kremlin-backed hackers also are behind a number of cyber-attacks on US government agencies, in part to bring about more instability in the country.

Others figures in Russia appeared to use the events in the US Capitol to justify Moscow's domestic policies.

The events show the need for better control of social media, said Anton Gorelkin, a member of the telecommunications committee in the Russian parliament's lower chamber.

"Social networks must work under strict rules within the law. Because absolute freedom of information is becoming a weapon for extremists," he said on his Telegram channel.

The United States and other Western countries repeatedly have condemned the Russian regime for moves to tighten controls on social media.

Washington has been a fierce critic of moves by Putin to clamp down on dissent, most recently accusing Russia of "intensifying repression of its civil society" with a new law last month expanding rules against NGOs and media considered foreign agents.

'Beautiful sight'

Meanwhile, China's internet erupted in mirth about the election strife.

On Thursday morning, state media tabloid Global Times tweeted side-by-side photo comparisons of Hong Kong protesters occupying the city's Legislative Council Complex in July 2019 with the Washington riots of January 6.

China's Communist Youth League described the unrest as a "beautiful sight" on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.

Beijing's Foreign Ministry echoed those sentiments, saying "the reaction of some people in the US, including that of some media outlets, is completely different", in reference to the Chinese campaign to crush democratic dissent in Hong Kong.

Speaking at a news briefing Thursday, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that the "sharp contrast [in reactions] makes one ponder, and deserves serious and profound reflection".

Hashtags about the storming of the US Capitol pinballed across China's Weibo January 7, racking up 570 million views, as users compared the global support for Hong Kong's protesters with the outpouring of condemnation for the mob.

"At present, all European countries' leaders have shown double standards and condemned it [Washington rioting]," read one Weibo comment that gained more than 5,000 likes.

"What happened in the Hong Kong Legislative Council last year is being repeated in the US Capitol," wrote another user in a comment with more than 4,500 likes.

Stark contrast

While the tactics were similar, there are stark differences in the causes and motivations of the two legislative stormings.

Hong Kong protesters broke into the Legislative Council to demand full democracy and halt an unpopular bill that was being pushed through by the city's unelected leadership.

Citizens of the semi-autonomous Chinese city do not enjoy full democratic rights, a situation that has sparked years of popular protests.

Beijing responded to the 2019 unrest with a crackdown, imposing a harsh security law on the restless city, arresting scores of critics and smothering dissent.

The Chinese crackdown in Hong Kong escalated dramatically January 6 with police arresting as many as 53 opposition figures in what observers have deemed "the largest single attack upon democracy in Hong Kong yet".

In contrast, those storming the US Capitol were trying to overturn the results of a free and fair presidential election.

Beijing also is author to what many describe as a "genocide": the detention and reeducation of millions of Muslims in Xinjiang.

In further evidence of the rapid escalation of the Chinese campaign against Muslim minorities, a BuzzFeed News investigation revealed that the communist state has built more than 100 new detention facilities in Xinjiang Region.

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