Pompeo dog photo asks internet users to wonder if the United States is playing with China

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TWITTER / MIKE POMPEO

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An innocent pet photograph or a coded insult targeting the Chinese leader?


A tweet from the US Secretary of State has led to speculation as to whether he is trying to send a message to the Chinese government.

Mike Pompeo posted a photo on his personal account of his dog Mercer, surrounded by “all of his favorite toys”. The toy that takes center stage is a Winnie the Pooh teddy bear.

The tweet received considerable attention as Winnie the Pooh is a common derogatory nickname for Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Chinese netizens don’t have much love for Mike Pompeo, and consider him “evil” and “the king of lies.”

However, he may know they will have a hard time talking about this tweet because the nicknames referring to the Chinese leader are heavily censored.

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Empics

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Memes Comparing Xi to Pooh Bear Angered Chinese Authorities


Why Winnie the Pooh?

The Chinese government is actively censoring derogatory comments or nicknames that could lead to mockery from Communist Party officials. However, Chinese internet users have long found creative ways to benchmark Chinese leadership online.

Images circulated in 2013 comparing the shape of President Xi’s body to the cartoon bear and gained international notoriety.

Since the adorable children’s toy makes it difficult for censors to remove harmless content without attracting ridicule, the nickname quickly gained ground.

Such tactics had previously proven effective with leader Jiang Zemin, many of whom were able to speak of the use of nicknames related to “toads”.

Is Winnie the Pooh Really So Sensitive?

In a word, yes.

“Winnie Pooh” and similar references have long been censored on Chinese social media platforms.

Image copyright
AFP / Weibo

A search for the word “Winnie” on the popular microblog Sina Weibo currently only reveals government-approved media or verified official accounts.

A warning also appears at the bottom of Sina Weibo also indicates that “some results have been omitted” from the searches.

China even removed a Taiwanese game, Devotion, in 2019 because it contained a hidden reference linking Xi Jinping and Winnie the Pooh.

Could Pompeo have innocently posted it?

It is entirely possible that the message is an innocent photograph of Mr. Pompeo’s dog and his toys, but there are other potential references to note in this photo.

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Getty Images

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Pompeo (L) and Xi (R) met in June 2018


Mr. Pompeo may have used “dog” as a reference to the United States or to himself. The word “dog” in Chinese is often used to refer to people or countries considered aggressive, wild or savage.

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The word “dog” has already been used by protesters in Hong Kong as a term of abuse for the police. In mainland China, the United States and Mike Pompeo have both been systematically called “dogs.”

When Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, at the request of the United States, Canada was often nicknamed the “dog leg” of the United States.

The presence of the elephant toy can also be important – as a subtle reference to India.

How do people react to this?

Thousands of Twitter users have commented on Mr. Pompeo’s tweet. Many have published memes making fun of the Chinese president and comment on how the secretary of state “plays with China.”

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Peking review / Twitter

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State media did not hesitate to show dislike for Pompeo


But given that Twitter is blocked and there is active censorship of references to Chinese leaders past and present, it is difficult for Chinese netizens to speak about their message in the country.

Therefore, it is difficult to find evidence that this image has leaked on Chinese platforms.

This could perhaps be surprising, given that in recent months, Chinese Internet users have not missed an opportunity to target Mike Pompeo with abuse.

State media has used language that has been widely spoken against him since May, calling him “the king of lies” and even “evil” because of the statements he and his team made about China on Covid. -19, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

He is regularly portrayed in the Chinese media as someone who cannot be trusted, and the Chinese media have regularly launched personal attacks against him for the statements he has made.

Only he would now have found a way to personally attack China, for which the country has no answer, only silence.

BBC surveillance reports and analyzes news from television, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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