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The “Wuhan Bat T-shirt” Incident: A Diplomatic Scandal

02-27

In mid February this year, Canada took the initiative in a joint effort with the United Kingdom, the U.S.A, Australia and the European Union to launch the “Declaration Against  Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations”. Soon, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs retorted that it was the best evidence of arbitrary detention of foreign citizens that Canada performed on the illegal detaining of Meng Wanzhou, making the Declaration appear more like Canada’s “written confession”.

Diplomatic conflicts between Canada and China have been bubbling up recently. The latest one was ignited by the “Wuhan Bat T-shirt” incident, a diplomatic row occurred in February that led to the recurrence of tense relations of the two nations since “Meng Wanzhou Incident” and the “Canadian Spy Incident”.

An online store manager in China revealed that Chad Hensler, a staff member of the Canadian Embassy in China, had successively ordered ten T-shirts with his design expressing Wuhan and a bat logo from the store in July last year. The design was deemed to insinuate the Covid-19 as the “Wuhan virus.”  The design was said to imitate the logo of the American hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, drawing fierce condemnation from the Chinese on social media. The spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized Canada for linking the virus to a specific country, an act of stigmatization and labeling.

The act of the Canadian diplomat provoked outrage among the Chinese people, and Chinese foreign affairs officials regarded the incident as a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and meanwhile a formal complaint was logged over the incident.


A spokesperson for Canada’s foreign service made an explanation next day, saying it was a misunderstanding, the design was not meant to represent a bat, just the stylized “W” in the logo of Wu-Tang Clan. According to the spokesperson, the T-shirts were created for the team of embassy staff who were working to repatriate Canadians from Wuhan in early 2020. However, Chinese netizens believe that the design represents the shape of a bat and alludes to the “Wuhan Bat Virus”. The mainstream Canadian media also admitted that the T-shirts were printed with a bat-like logo. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not accept the explanation of this “misunderstanding”.


In order to quell China’s dissatisfaction after failing to reverse the unanimous judgment of the Chinese as well asCanadian people and the media regarding the bat logo, the Canadian Embassy in China issued a formal apology on February 7 saying it regrets for offending public sentiment in China, but stated it was the personal behavior of the Embassy staff and nothing to do with the act of Canada. Although the Chinese didn’t buy it, the Chinese government finally gave Canada a step down, warning Canada should consider the incident as a lesson learned and make sure such things won’t happen again.


As a matter of fact, the nature of the “Wuhan Bat T-shirt” incident is a diplomatic scandal. The Canadian diplomat has committed an act unbecoming to his status and violated the rules of conduct for diplomats stipulated in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. More than 190 countries are so far signatories to the Convention signed in Vienna in 1961, and both Canada and China are among the signatories. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations stipulates that the functions of a diplomatic mission are promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations, and a diplomatic agent shall not in the receiving State practice for personal profit any professional or commercial


Obviously the Canadian diplomat Chad Hensler did not follow the code of conduct. He believes that Covid-19 has its origins in Wuhan despite of facts that need thorough investigation, and he used the bat logo to map the “Wuhan virus”, ignoring a diplomat’s duty of developing friendly relations with China and stigmatizing China instead. Canada takes this a personal behavior, but the fact is its diplomatic agent has violated the provisions of the Convention about not engaging in private activities. The Canadian Embassy in China definitely has responsibility in controlling the behavior of its agents.


Erlinda, former Philippine consul general to Guangzhou, China recently commented on this incident, criticizing Chad Hensler’s unprofessional action as a diplomat, and saying that the “Wuhan Bat T-shirt” incident is unfair to Wuhan and Chinese people who suffered from the pandemic.


Since the pandemic, China has contained the spread of the virus within a short time, while and most countries in the west and the world have been failed to effectively stop the spread. The United Nations Secretary-General Guterres stated that the Chinese people “have contributed to all mankind by sacrificing their normal life.” The Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has repeatedly said in his praise that “the speed and scale of China’s actions is rare in the world.”


China, promptly restoring its economy after the pandemic was controlled, has become the world’s main source of medical and health supplies. China’s vaccines are also widely available to countries around the world, and its international influence has greatly enhanced. On the contrary, western countries, including Canada, are still facing a severe situation regarding the prevention and control of the pandemic.


The West gets used to attacking China’s social system and ideology through the discourse power of their media, ignoring the preponderance of China’s system in dealing with crises. The support rate of the Chinese people for the government has reached a record high, and the stigmatization of the West on China is widely condemned by the Chinese. The “Wuhan Bat T-shirt” incident demonstrates that Chinese people are more willing to take the initiative to protect their dignity.


The Covid-19 is a common challenge for the humanity, and stigmatization in the pandemic doesn’t help tackle the crisis. The Canadian diplomats in China have undoubtedly made a big mistake.

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