The U.S. Embassy in Beijing apologized after a social media post intended to announce the lifting of certain pandemic barriers between the two countries sparked a backlash after it was seen as comparing Chinese students to dogs.
The visa section of the embassy urged Chinese students to resume their U.S. visa applications on Wednesday in a post on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.
This marked an easing of restrictions after former President Donald Trump banned most non-U.S. Citizens in China from entering the country after the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Spring has arrived and the flowers are in bloom. Are you like that dog who can’t wait to get out and play? The Chinese-language post said, according to Reuters. It was accompanied by a picture of a small dog trying to escape through a door.
Weibo users reacted angrily, with many believing the post compared Chinese students to desperate puppies.
“Dogs in American culture have basically positive meanings, but in Chinese culture and idioms they are mostly negative,” wrote one user, according to Reuters.
The Global Times, an English-language newspaper run by the People’s Daily of the Communist Party, also quoted users as saying the post was “blatant racism.”
The message was then deleted and the Embassy apologized.
“The post in question on social media was intended to be light and humorous. We immediately removed it when we saw that it had not been received in the spirit we wanted,” said a spokesperson for the embassy.
“We have the utmost respect for all Chinese, certainly including Chinese students,” the spokesperson added. “We apologize if anyone has been offended. It was certainly not our intention.
China is the largest source of international students in the United States
About 372,000 Chinese made up 35% of international students in the 2019-2020 school year, according to the International Education Exchange, almost twice as many as the second highest, Indian students.
But tensions between Washington and Beijing have intensified in recent years.
And Chinese netizens, often inflamed and magnified by the Communist Party’s propaganda efforts, have repeatedly made headlines for their angry interventions at actions they perceive to be anti-China.
“Small missteps like this tweet can quickly be read as part of a systemic disregard for China’s place in the world today,” said Florian Schneider, director of the Leiden Asia Center, a research organization in the United States. The Netherlands, adding that the backlash could come from Chinese mistrust of the United States’ will to prevent its emergence as a great power.
The Trump administration angered Chinese authorities when it issued a travel ban on arrivals from the country in January 2020, and continued to harshly criticize Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. When the Biden administration announced it was relaxing the ban last month, Beijing greeted the news as “a positive step.”
Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, said that while he believed the US Embassy had no malicious intent to publish the message, it was unwise not to foresee that some would be offended to be compared to dogs.
“Anything that seems to imply that the Chinese people are not treated with absolute respect will be considered offensive,” he said.
Tsang added that Chinese “netizens” have had heightened sensitivity lately, partly because of tensions with the United States, and partly because nationalism in China has been “put on steroids” under the president’s leadership. Xi Jinping.
“Xi Jinping is actually calling on people all over China not to stand up for anything that could be seen as disrespectful to China,” Tsang said.
“The Chinese government has armed everyone and everything to support the Communist Party and the party’s foreign policy. Why wouldn’t they use these online platforms as weapons too? “