During the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Beijing, Russian President Vladimir Putin put a shawl on Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping. If you’re thinking that’s not news, I’m right there with you. What happened next makes it news.
Almost immediately, a hashtag was created on China’s Twitter equivalent and the video began circling Chinese social media. Instead of ignoring it — you know, like adults — Chinese censors kicked into gear, scrubbing the video and any mentions of it from the Chinese web. News sites that had covered the incident pulled articles discussing it. Unfortunately for censor efforts, the video had already made it beyond their reach, onto United States-hosted sites like Vimeo and YouTube.
In fact, here’s a clip of the incident in question:
As you can see, she almost immediately takes the shawl off, trading it for one given to her by an attendant. So why is this such a big deal to the Chinese censors? Foreign Policy words it best:
China’s tightly controlled state media carefully protects the reputation of its top government leaders, and the names of China’s top leaders are frequently some of the most heavily censored terms on Chinese social media. In addition, the sweeping anti-corruption campaign Xi himself directs specifically targets infidelity as both a sign and a symptom of graft. And given China’s growing economic and military ties with Russia, even the hint of less than squeaky-clean behavior involving Russia’s president and China’s First Lady is certainly strictly verboten.
Was Putin flirting? It seems doubtful. China just helped Russia evade sanctions by the West by signing a massive $400 billion natural gas deal. It would be a silly move on Putin’s part to do anything to jeopardize closer relations between the two nations, including — and especially — flirting with President Jinping’s wife. And this isn’t the first time he’s felt “chivalrous” — he has done the same thing for Germany’s Chancellor Merkel. Maybe he just doubts the ability of women to regulate their own body temperature.