Chinese state media and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing politicians and netizens have drawn comparisons between the unrest at the US Capitol and the storming of Hong Kong’s legislature during the large-scale protests in 2019.

On Wednesday, live rounds and tear gas were fired at the Capitol Building in Washington DC, after supporters of US President Donald Trump stormed Congress to block the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election last November.

US Capitol
Photo: vasilis asvestas, via Shutterstock.

Trump has repeatedly made unfounded claims that the polls were “rigged” and accused his rivals of trying to “steal” the election. According to US media, protesters at Congress smashed windows and clashed violently with security guards and police. A female protester was reportedly among four people killed during the chaos, according to The Independent.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump. Photo: The White House, via Flickr.

Trump was suspended from posting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but the incumbent US leader told demonstrators at the Capitol Hill to remain peaceful before the incident: “No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!” he tweeted.

‘Get a taste’

On Facebook, Ann Chiang of the pro-Beijing DAB party shared a video of the turmoil in Washington DC and said Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) was occupied and vandalised during the social unrest of 2019. She mentioned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who once described the large-scale demonstrations in Hong Kong as “a beautiful sight to behold” in June 2019.

“Today Pelosi’s office was occupied as well, American lawmakers can finally experience this democratic violence, and get a taste of what it is like for the legislature to be occupied,” she wrote.

Chinese state-owned tabloid Global Times pointed to Pelosi’s remarks as well. They shared a side-by-side comparison of scenes from the Hong Kong protest and the US Capitol unrest: “[I]t remains yet to be seen whether she will say the same about the recent developments in Capitol Hill.”

On July 1, 2019, pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong broke into the legislative chamber by smashing glass doors and windows during the early months of the anti-extradition law protests. They scrawled slogans including “Carrie Lam step down,” “Release the martyrs” and “Hong Kong is not China” with spray paint, as others defaced the HKSAR emblem and tore up a copy of the Basic Law.

Another pro-establishment lawmaker Junius Ho said the situation in Washington DC was more severe compared to the storming of the LegCo: “Harm set, harm get. The US Capitol Hill was occupied by rioters, the situation was more serious than Hong Kong on July 1, 2019. One woman was shot to death!” Ho wrote on Facebook.

July 1 china extradition protest
Hong Kong protesters leave a slogan on the wall reading “There are no rioters, only a tyrannical regime” during the storming of the Legislative Council on July 1, 2019. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Executive Council member Ronny Tong also made a sarcastic comment on the storming of the US legislature: “These scenes are so familiar… oh, it is in the US! That is strange, why no one is condemning police violence and give support to heroes and martyrs who are fighting for a ‘democratic election’?”

us unrest

A pro-Beijing Facebook group Hong Kong Good News placed photos from US unrest and the LegCo storming next to each other, with a caption saying the chaos in the Capitol Building was “small-scale” compared to how Hong Kong protesters “rampaged” the local legislature.

Protesters split

Meanwhile, on Hong Kong popular discussion forum LIHKG, which saw many backing Trump during the presidential election, netizens appeared to be divided on whether the storming of the US legislature was similar to the July 1 storming in the city.

One thread was titled “US Congress is reliving June 12” – a reference to the intense police-protester clashes outside the government headquarters in Admiralty, where tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets were deployed to disperse the crowd. Some said protesters in both locations wanted a “fair election,” and the firing of tear gas by police resembled June 12, 2019.

But other LIHKG users criticised the Chinese state media comparison and said it was “taken out of context.” They argued the “nature” of the two incidents were different as they questioned why people would compare a “dictatorship” with a democratically-elected government.

“Subverting democracy vs subverting totalitarianism,” one commenter wrote.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.