On a day when China sought to claim a grander role on the world stage in managing global commerce, a seemingly thoughtful gesture by the Russian president ended up awkwardly upstaging his Chinese counterpart.
At a chilly outdoors event at the Asia-Pacific summit in Beijing, Russian leader Vladimir Putin took it upon himself Tuesday to wrap a shawl around the shoulders of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wife.
She accepted with a broad smile, but quickly removed the shawl and accepted one from her own attendants.
The incident became instant fodder for jokes, as it made Putin look gallant and Xi (who was conversing with Barack Obama) inattentive to his wife.
Off-color jokes added to the cringe factor, as many Chinese women see the divorced Putin as a sexy macho man, and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan was a glamorous recording star before her husband became a somebody.
“China is traditionally conservative on public interaction between unrelated men and women, and the public show of consideration by Putin may provide fodder for jokes, which the big boss probably does not like,” Beijing-based historian and independent commentator Zhang Lifan explained.
Video of the incident was removed from China’s CCTV and scrubbed from China’s censored Internet.