An image of President Donald Trump’s face superimposed on the chiseled body of fictional boxing champ Rocky Balboa has become an overseas sensation.
The doctored photo, which appeared on Trump’s Twitter account Wednesday, depicts the president as the lean, mean fighting machine played by Sylvester Stallone in the sports drama film franchise.
It has now become a symbol of resistance among pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, who on Thursday took to the streets waving posters of the president’s apparent alter-ego and praising his signing of two bills supporting the demonstrators.
The new legislation, which had bipartisan backing in Congress, will slap sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights violations and require a yearly review of the U.S.’s special trade agreement with Hong Kong. Additionally, the measures ban the exportation of products like rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray to Hong Kong police, who have used the nonlethal munitions as a means of crowd control.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng immediately lashed out against the bills, warning U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad that it was a “serious interference in China’s internal affairs and a serious violation of international law,” The Associated Press reported. Le also rebuked the legislation as a “nakedly hegemonic act” that jeopardize U.S.-China relations.
Before Trump signed the bills into law, Chinese President Xi Jinping had already vowed retaliation, ratcheting up tensions between the two countries as they continue dealing with an unresolved trade war.
However, Trump made clear in a statement that he would not back down.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” he said. “They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all.”
Meanwhile, protests in Hong Kong against the Chinese government have persisted for six months, sometimes turning violent as police clash with demonstrators.
Activists’ embrace of the Trump-Rocky poster takes a page from America’s right-wing playbook, which has used the “swole Trump” image to paint the president as a powerful, no-nonsense leader ― the polar opposite of the infamous Trump baby blimp that portrays him as a wailing infant wearing a diaper.