China has demanded an explanation from Brazil after its education minister insinuated a link between the coronavirus pandemic to its “plan for world domination” in a tweet imitating a Chinese accent.
In the latest incident to strain ties between Brasilia and Beijing, Education Minister Abraham Weintraub implied China could be behind the contagion.
“Geopolitically, who will come out stronger from this global crisis?” he wrote on Twitter on Friday. “Who in Brazil is allied with this infallible plan for world domination?”
In the original Portuguese, his tweet substituted the letter “r” with a capital “L” – “BLazil” – in a style commonly used to mock a Chinese accent.
The Chinese embassy in Brasilia condemned Weintraub’s “absurd and despicable” comment, calling it “highly racist”, on Monday.
“The Chinese government expects an official explanation from Brazil,” said Ambassador Yang Wanming.
O lado chinês aguarda uma declaração oficial do lado brasileiro sobre as palavras feitas pelo min. da educação, membro do governo brasileiro. Nós somos cientes de que nossos povos estão do mesmo lado ao resistir às palavras racistas e salvaguardar nossa amizade. @ItamaratyGovBr https://t.co/etYsXA48yw
— Yang Wanming (@WanmingYang) April 6, 2020
Translation: The Chinese [government] awaits an official statement from the Brazilian [administration] on the declarations made by the Minister of Education … We are aware that our people are on the same side in resisting racism and safeguarding our friendship.
The dispute comes as Brazil, like many countries, is hoping to source more medical equipment from China to deal with COVID-19.
Weintraub said in an interview he stood by his tweet and called on China to do more to help fight the pandemic.
“If they [China] sell us 1,000 ventilators, I’ll get down on my knees in front of the embassy, apologise, and say I was an idiot,” he told Radio Bandeirantes.
Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said last week that Brazil is struggling to source ventilators and other vital health supplies from China, saying some of its orders were cancelled without explanation.
Social media war
The issue erupted into a social media war on Monday. The top trend on Twitter in Brazil was the #TradeBlockadeOnChinaNow.
Brazil, whose biggest trading partner is China, is the most affected Latin American country by the coronavirus, with nearly 500 deaths and more than 11,000 confirmed cases so far.
Since the pandemic emerged, Brazil-China ties have been strained, notably by a series of tweets by President Jair Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, a federal legislator.
Eduardo Bolsonaro criticised the Chinese “dictatorship” for its handling of the outbreak in March.
Last week, he tweeted about the “Chinese virus”, a phrase that infuriates Beijing. It has also been used by US President Donald Trump, whom his father admires.
That prompted China’s consul general in Rio de Janeiro, Li Yang, to ask Eduardo in an opinion column in Brazilian newspaper Globo: “Are you really that naive and ignorant?”