Putin’s shawl chivalry gets blanket coverage from Western media, Chinese censors

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) helps put a blanket on Peng Liyuan (2nd R), wife of China's President Xi Jinping at National Aquatics Center, or Water Cube, in Beijing, November 10, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer)

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) helps put a blanket on Peng Liyuan (2nd R), wife of China’s President Xi Jinping at National Aquatics Center, or Water Cube, in Beijing, November 10, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer)

An apparently innocuous gesture from Vladimir Putin, who put a shawl around the shoulders of China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan during a fireworks display, has attracted accusations of being Russia’s “Don-Juan-in-Chief” from Western media.

The Russian president followed his country’s cold-weather etiquette, when he offered what appeared to be a shawl or blanket to Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s wife during a chilly outdoor fireworks display at the APEC summit in Beijing. The camera caught the former renowned folk singer courteously accepting the offer, before exchanging the shawl for a coat handed to her by an assistant. Meanwhile, Xi sat a few meters away, talking animatedly to Barack Obama.

Monday’s momentary humanizing episode might have passed without mention, but the image proved a boon for journalists possibly bored with the intricacies of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

“’Putin’ On the Moves: Vlad Cozies Up to China’s First Lady,” screamed NBC.

“Putin Hits on China’s First Lady,” asserted US magazine Foreign Policy. “Russia’s Don Juan-in-chief just got a little too friendly with Xi Jinping’s wife.”

“The first unspoken rule of diplomacy might be “Don’t hit on the president’s wife,” but Russia’s newly single president Vladimir Putin seems to have missed the memo,” it continued.

 

 

 

 

Vladimir Putin divorced Lyudmila, his wife of 30 years, last year. The couple were said to have been separated for some time.

Several outlets went with the obvious ‘Coatgate’ concept.

Chinese audiences, to whom Xi and Peng are always depicted as a dream power couple, have not had a chance to savor the gossip.

Locals were able to see the moment live on national broadcaster CCTV, with the commentator noting the incident, which also sparked a hash tag on Chinese social networks.

Yet a few hours later, all mention of the incident were erased, and the videos taken down, presumably by one of China’s thousands-strong team of censors.

“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,” commentator Zhang Lifan told the Guardian.

 

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This is not the first time Vladimir Putin’s manners have landed him in a mini-storm. A similar gesture last year, when Putin offered a shawl to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, provoked many of the same kind of comments.

 

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