'The UC Davis Policeman's Actions Are a Huge Gift to the Chinese Government'

By James Fallows
Just now from an American living in China:
I've been following the coverage of the UC Davis Pepper Spray incident and I just wanted to bring up another angle. 

I first learned about the incident while sitting on the Hong Kong MTR [mass transit system, which of course is superb] en route to Shenzhen (I was flying back to Chengdu where I currently live.) The Hong Kong metro has tv screens, which happened to be showing the news, and my first thought when I saw the video of the policeman pepper-spraying the students was that I must be mis-reading the Chinese subtitles at the bottom of the screen, because there is no way this could be taking place in America.

But my second and longer-lasting impression, was an amazement of how quickly this video had spread had spread throughout the world and how detrimental it was for the US's image. The UC Davis' policeman's actions are a huge gift to the Chinese government, because this gives the Chinese government added ammunition to build a moral equivalency argument between itself and the US (not to the world but to it's own people.) I only speak from experience in China, but I'm sure in many countries, the reaction will be the same. Just another aspect in which this horrible event is a tragedy.
Of course I recognize the hypocrisy of Chinese officials harping on police brutality, when they spend half their time trying to suppress online videos of their police, Chengguan, and riot squads doing the same thing, and much worse, around the country. But as the reader says, that's the point: since when do we benchmark our standards of civil liberties, tolerance for protest, and police-public interactions on those of a one-party Communist state?

More on this in a few hours. For the moment, a reminder that the connectedness of the world and the instantaneous global spread of images have consequences that are unfolding more quickly than anyone can anticipate or make sense of.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/the-uc-davis-policemans-actions-are-a-huge-gift-to-the-chinese-government/248819/