China and the World

All eyes on Florida

How China reacted to the shooting in Orlando last Sunday

People take part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando

A candlelight memorial service

On Sunday the United States experienced its deadliest mass shooting, when a gunman opened fire at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 and injuring 53 more.

Debate in America concentrated on the roles Islamic extremism, homophobia and lax gun controls played in the attacks. In China the media attention has been subdued, primarily reiterating the facts of what occurred. However, there were messages of support. The country’s official news agency Xinhua reported that President Xi Jinping had telephoned his American counterpart to express his condolences over the shootings.

And on Tuesday more than 100 organisations committed to LGBT rights in China wrote an open letter of support to the gay community in America. The leader of one of those groups, Pang Yanhui, told the Global Times: “The massacre is a reminder that homophobia and transphobia are still prevalent throughout the world today. Although private ownership of guns is banned in China, other forms of violence such as conversion therapies… occur on a daily basis.”

A few of China’s media outlets took a different line, reminding readers that the United States is a democracy, and implying that this political model is far from perfect if it produces such acts of violence.

Some of the responses to this view were withering – one of the most popular comments on an article by stated simply: “This has nothing to do with democracy nor with a lack of democracy. Grieve for the dead.” But others maintained that the political system is relevant to the debate, because it is the democratic process that has prevented US governments from banning the sale of firearms.

Civilians in China have no legal means of procuring guns, but that hasn’t prevented the nation’s own citizens from launching terror attacks. In 2014, 10 people armed with knives killed 29 others and injured over 130 at a train station in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. The rampage was labelled as a terrorist attack – carried out by supporters of a separatist movement in Xinjiang.

When those attacks were reported by international media the Chinese government was angry that some of the reports inserted quotation marks around the term terrorist, with Xinhua arguing that it was evidence of an American “double-standard in the global fight against terrorism”. Following the murders in Florida, the theme was picked up again by the Chinese media, alongside criticism that the Americans need to be aware of how their policies have worsened the terrorist threat globally.

“America needs to rethink its counter terrorism strategy… Fifteen years ago the America that suffered the 9/11 terrorist attacks received the world’s sympathy and support. But, 10 years later, America has taken the name of counter terrorism and used it to implement hegemony. This has caused the global spread of terrorist ideology,” Beijing Youth Daily wrote.

The notion that the United States and other Western countries are responsible for their own problems is touted fairly frequently in China – especially when the subject is the instability in the Middle East. Of course, the gunman in Florida was an American citizen by birth, though of Afghan descent. (Beijing Youth Daily’s article mentions how the US started a war in Afghanistan, suggesting a connection here as well).

The China Daily hoped the massacre would encourage the Americans to follow China’s lead in hampering communication between terrorists. But ‘lone wolf’ attacks are a problem that China struggles to prevent too. On the same day as the shooting in Florida, a man exploded incendiary devices in Shanghai’s Pudong Airport, causing panic but no loss of life (four people were injured and the man then slashed his own throat at the scene and was rushed to hospital).

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