Jyllands-Posten back on the news, this time due to a cartoon about China

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The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten is back on the news, this time due to a cartoon depicting the Chinese flag with the coronavirus.

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When hearing the name “Jyllands-Posten”, most will not know what it is or which country it comes from, while others will most likely remember the 2005 controversy about the Muhammad cartoons. Well, the Danish newspaper is, once again, back on the news, this time due to a cartoon depicting the Chinese flag, with the yellow stars replaced by the Coronavirus.

Drawing by Niels Bo Bojesen.

The Chinese embassy in Denmark issued, on the 27th, a statement demanding an apology over the cartoon, which, according to the officials, is “an insult to China and hurts the feeling of the Chinese people”. The statement continues, using strong words such as “empathy” and “offends human conscience”, claiming that this cartoon mocks China and the Chinese people while they are fighting against the Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak. Here’s the statement from the Chinese embassy in Denmark in full:

Responding to the controversy, the chief editor of the Jyllands-Posten, Jacob Nybroe, explained that the cartoon’s only intention was illustrating the article on the subject, giving readers a quick idea of the matter, a practice that is quite common. A quick look at other articles published by the Danish newspaper shows that they often illustrate their articles with caricatures, which, even for readers that might not speak the language, give a rough idea of the subject treated. Furthermore, the newspaper also mentioned this matter falls in the free speech area, which allows people to say (or, in this case, draw) anything they want… with, of course, some boundaries.

This “free speech” point was also mentioned by the Danish Prime Minister, who responded indirectly to the controversy. The Danish Foreign minister also defended this free speech right, further backing up the Danish newspaper. On Weibo, the Danish embassy in China published the statement from both Denmark’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, praising China’s handling of the virus outbreak and extending their sympathy to the affected and deceased. Here’s the statement (in Chinese):

Things could have stopped here, although it appears Chinese citizens do not agree with this matter, responding to the situation by creating “memes” with the Danish flag, in an attempt to insult the Nordic nation. As seen in other occasions, various users on social media, such as on Twitter, posted hateful messages under the newspaper’s tweets, although most of these tweets ended up being flagged as spam and thus being hidden. While in the past, this could have been attributed to the “wumao”, also known as the “50 cent army”, which are people paid by the Chinese government to defend the government’s policies online and attack all those against it, as well as anybody speaking badly of the country, in recent cases, it appears these are random users which do not fully understand the situation.

A quick search on Weibo shows that some accounts are just posting entire “packs” of images with the Danish flag so other users can just save those and post them on Twitter and other places, such as under the posts of the Weibo account of the Danish embassy in China. It is unclear whether all these people understand properly the situation. Here are some examples of the pictures posted by these people. In some cases, we’ve edited the Weibo handle out:

For those that might be confused by the “Four hours” claim, it is a reference to World War II and the occupation of Denmark by the Nazis, with the military campaign barely lasting a few hours. The country surrendered within two hours from the start of the invasion, due to fears that the capital, Copenhagen, might be bombed, and, eventually, the last few soldiers opposing resistance only learned of this surrender a few hours later, thus the “Four hours” claim. Then again, few people would have done differently, especially under the threat of having the capital of the country bombed and thousands of civilians killed, in an effort that would have been for nothing, as Denmark would have never been able to resist a long military campaign. Furthermore, it is important to point out that the country evacuated most of the Jewish population to Sweden, saving them from a certain death. The country also saw part of its police force arrested and then deported to German camps.

While the Chinese public responded quite negatively to the cartoon, they were not the only ones, with some amongst the Danish public voicing their disapproval. Some of this anger, at least from the Chinese public, is understandable. After all, the country is going through a very difficult time, fighting against an epidemic that keeps spreading day after day, with thousands of cases and dozens of deaths, as well as disruptions of the celebrations of the Chinese New Year, as the government applies severe measures to try and restrict the spread of the virus. But one should also keep in mind that this cartoon was published in a Danish newspaper and aimed at a Danish public, making China’s and its citizens’ response misplaced and at times going overboard, especially with those posting death threats or placing a whole nation under the same umbrella.

The Chinese reaction is even more surprising when one takes in account how many Europeans express admiration towards the way the crisis has been handled so far by the Chinese government, with this one going as far as claiming to want to build a new hospital in just 10 days. After all, here on our continent, this would not only be unthinkable, but also impossible to do, seeing how basic roadworks take forever to be completed and renovations of key transport hubs can take years, even if the budget is non-negligible.

Ultimately, the reaction from the Chinese authorities towards this cartoon is quite curious, but not disproportionate, if compared with the previous “scandal” from the  Jyllands-Posten, when the newspaper published some cartoons about the prophet in Islam, the Muhammad cartoons, which led to a boycott of the Danish economy in the Middle East, on top of resulting in death threats towards the newspaper, with the cartoonist requiring constant protection for years afterwards. In recent times, we can also bring up the reaction of an Islamist party from Pakistan, which threatened The Netherlands with claims of “only sharia” being enough for cleaning this affront, as well as asking for a nuclear strike against the Dutch country, all due to a drawing contest centred around drawing the prophet.

Regardless, for now, Beijing hasn’t said anything else on the matter, and the current backlash should be gone in a few days. At the same time, the Chinese government should also lay low and avoid to anger Europeans in general, which, so far, have been quite lenient on the activities of the Asian nation on our continent, in other parts of Asia or Africa, as well as other events such as the Hong Kong protests.

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