No one wants to see Russian President Vladimir Putin hit on their wife.
So when Chinese social media users suggested that Putin may have been flirting with China's first lady Peng Liyuan when he gave her a shawl under the full glare of TV cameras, the incident was quickly scrubbed from the Internet.
Putin started the social media stir when he wrapped a shawl around the shoulders of Peng Liyuan at a Monday night event during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. Peng Liyuan's husband, Chinese President Xi Jinping, was meanwhile chatting with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Putin's gesture was captured on China's state TV, and the video took off on news sites and social media, even spawning a hashtag that roughly translates to "Putin Gives Peng Liyuan His Coat," Foreign Policy notes. Other Chinese social media users hinted at a flirtation. "China's first lady's boundless charm wins over Mr. Putin," said one post, according to a translation by CNN.
But the clip soon disappeared in China. As CNN explains:
Searches for the video and hashtag on China's twitter-like Weibo and messaging service WeChat turned up a smattering of comments and broken links, leaving users to surmise that China's Internet police had deemed the material too potentially damaging to share.
According to Foreign Policy, there are several reasons that Putin's action may have been deemed inappropriate for Chinese audiences. Chinese leaders' reputations are heavily sanitized by the state-controlled media and by censorship of online discussion. And the timing is particularly sensitive. Xi's recent crackdown on corrupt officials has suggested that infidelity may be linked with corruption. Moreover, given the blossoming ties between Russia and China, any suggestion of scandal is especially unwelcome.
Not that much scandal exists. Peng graciously accepted the shawl with a bow, before quickly shedding it for a coat provided by her aide.
And some defended Putin as doing nothing more than being a very good Russian.
“It’s a tradition in Russia for a man of dignity to respect ladies on public occasions, and in a cold country like Russia, it is very normal that a gentleman should help ladies take on and off their coats,” Li Xin, director of Russian and Central Asian studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told The Guardian.