It was a tweet just three words in length.
Yet the simple utterance shared by Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson of the Communist Party of China, was long enough – and bold enough – to constitute another scathing attack on the US.
In what has become a prolonged and ugly back-and-forth in rapidly deteriorating relations between the US and China, the Asian powerhouse took aim at the perceived “hypocrisy” of the US over its stance on Beijing’s decision to implement controversial national security laws on Hong Kong.
The tweet mimics the desperate plea of a black man who was allegedly murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis. After strikingly similar instances in the past, the three words – “I can’t breath” – have become an unwanted slogan for those fighting against institutional police racism against black people.
The slight from Hua Chunying throws shade at US political elite at a time when most American states are struggling to quell violent protests triggered by George Floyd’s murder, while simultaneously struggling to handle the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Hua’s tweet was shared alongside a screenshot of another post by US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus that had criticised the Chinese government over its Hong Kong policy.
"Freedom-loving people around the world must stand with the rule of law and hold to account the Chinese Communist Party, which has flagrantly broken its promises to the people of Hong Kong," Ms Ortagus wrote in the earlier message.
In another tweet Ms Hua shared a segment from Russia-funded RT television network in the US, blasting Washington for its support of protesters in Hong Kong while labelling rioters in the US as “thugs”.
On Friday, Donald Trump tweeted that authorities would resort to shooting looters across the US amid the protests.
“These THUGS are dishonouring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” he said.
“When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Diao Daming, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told Chinese-state media publication The Global Times the US protests indicated that the US is “unqualified to criticise other countries on human rights issues."
"Their interferences always worsened the peace and stability for the region. When it comes to their own country, they are showing their hypocrisy."
Mr Diao’s remarks came amid an orchestrated attack by Chinese state media on the US government.
Beijing has long been infuriated by criticism from Western capitals, especially Washington, over its handling of the pro-democracy protests that shook Hong Kong last year.
Chinese state-controlled media circulated video clips suggesting Hong Kong police were "restrained" in comparison to actions seen in the US.
State media began using the hashtag "How restrained are the Hong Kong police" on the Twitter-like Chinese platform Weibo.
One clip posted by the People's Daily on Sunday compared the recent on-screen arrest of CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, who was covering the unrest in the US city of Minneapolis last Friday, with scenes of Hong Kong police appearing to back away from media personnel in the city last year.
The accompanying caption said "reporters used their professional identities to obstruct law enforcement".
Police in Hong Kong have repeatedly been accused by rights groups of using excessive force during pro-democracy protests last year.
The ever-vocal and controversial Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, joined in the attack on Sunday.
"US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once called the violent protests in Hong Kong 'a beautiful sight to behold.'... US politicians now can enjoy this sight from their own windows," he said.
It was "as if the radical rioters in Hong Kong somehow snuck into the US and created a mess like they did last year", he added.
China has insisted that "foreign forces" are to blame for the turmoil in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protesters – described by Beijing as rioters – have marched in the millions since June last year and often clashed with the police.
Beijing sparked outrage and concern earlier this month with a plan to impose a law on Hong Kong that it said was needed to protect national security and curb "terrorism", but was condemned by pro-democracy activists and Western nations as another attempt to chip away at the city's unique freedoms.
Following President Donald Trump's announcement that he would strip Hong Kong of its special privileges, a commentary published Sunday in China Daily said US politicians dreamed of "victimising" China.
"Better give up that dream and come back to reality," it said.
"Violence is spreading across the US... US politicians should do their jobs and help solve problems in the US, instead of trying to create new problems and troubles in other countries."
The back-and-forth over Hong Kong has exacerbated US-China tensions, which were already running hot over a number of issues, including trade and the coronavirus pandemic, over which Trump has accused Beijing of a lack of transparency.
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