Is it rude to call someone rude? Is it undiplomatic to point out a lack of diplomacy in others?
That was the debate in the Chinese media last week after Queen Elizabeth II was caught on camera saying mainland officials had been “very rude” ahead of Xi Jinping’s state visit last October.
Though reaction was limited in China – probably because it was censored – much of it was vitriolic. “Right, because the British were so polite when they brought opium to China and burnt the Summer Palace” wrote one angry weibo user. Another went back even further in history, to fourteenth century Scotland: “Is it not rude that your nobles enjoyed the droit du seigneur of others’ brides?”
Xi’s trip to Britain last year officially launched what British finance minister George Osborne had declared to be a ‘Golden Era’ of Sino-British relations. In China the trip was perceived as a huge success. People back home lapped up the pomp and circumstance of the state dinner and Xi’s carriage ride down the Mall with the monarch.
In this context it is easier to see why many have reacted angrily to the clip. A few even suggested Chinese tourists should shun the UK from now on.
The Queen’s conversation was recorded at a rainy garden party at Buckingham Palace. The clip shows the head of the Royal Household, Earl Peel, introducing Police Commander Lucy D’Orsi, and explaining that D’Orsi was in charge of security for Xi’s visit
“Oh, bad luck,” said the Queen. “They were very rude to the ambassador,” she adds, apparently referring to an earlier meeting attended by Barbara Woodward – Britain’s first female ambassador to China – to prepare for Xi’s visit. (British diplomats have had similarly testing moments before. According to UK media, ahead of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit in 2014, Chinese diplomats threatened to cancel the trip unless Li got to meet the Queen.)
Initially China tried to censor news of the leaked tape, cutting foreign TV channels when they mentioned it. The Chinese foreign ministry also tried to downplay the impact of the video saying the ‘Golden Era’ was unaffected by the Queens comments.
It then fell to the Global Times – the only paper to write a commentary about the clip – to guide public anger somewhere appropriate. “The Western media love gossip,” it said, describing British journalists as “barbarians” and sunnily admonishing: “Maybe greater contact with a country which has 5,000 years of history will see the West progress.” But it denied there was a deliberate slight.“One cannot imagine British officials intentionally leaked this footage because they know to do so is true rudeness. The British Royal family have more pride than to stoop that low,” it said.
One netizen, mind you, had an interesting take on why the Chinese should not take offence. “Remember, the US has been ridiculed by the British for being rude for more than a century,” he wrote.
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