With major street protests erupting in Iran and China in recent weeks, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is facing questions about its response to the unrest roiling two of the most significant U.S. adversaries.
To date, the administration’s responses to events in both China and Iran have been mostly measured, though distinct.
In the case of Iran, where months of protests followed the death in police custody of a young woman accused of not wearing a headscarf appropriately, the president himself has criticized Tehran’s policies. As early as October, he said that women “should be able to wear, in God’s name, what they want to wear” and “Iran has to end the violence against its own citizens [for] simply exercising their fundamental rights.”
With regard to China, where the protests have primarily focused on the government’s draconian lockdown procedures related to its “zero-COVID” policy, the administration has been very careful to say that it supports peoples’ right to peacefully protest. However, it has not echoed demands by some of the protesters that leaders step down.
In recent remarks, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said of the events in China, “[O]ur message to peaceful protesters around the world is the same and consistent: People should be allowed the right to assemble and to peacefully protest policies or laws or dictates that they take issue with.”