China has demanded an explanation from Brazil after the far-right government’s education minister linked the coronavirus pandemic to Beijing’s “plan for world domination”, in a tweet imitating a Chinese accent.
In the latest incident to strain ties between the two nations, minister Abraham Weintraub insinuated China was behind the global health crisis.
“Geopolitically, who will come out stronger from this global crisis?” he wrote on Twitter Saturday. “Who in Brazil is allied with this infallible plan for world domination?”
In the original Portuguese, his tweet substituted the letter “r” with capital “L” – “BLazil” instead of “Brazil,” for example – in a style commonly used to mock a Chinese accent.
China’s embassy in Brazil condemned Weintraub’s “absurd and despicable” tweet, calling it “highly racist”. “The Chinese government expects an official explanation from Brazil,” tweeted ambassador Yang Wanming.
The row 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 Brazil was struggling to source ventilators and other vital health supplies from China, saying some of its orders were cancelled without explanation.
The issue erupted online on Monday. The top trend on Twitter in Brazil was the hashtag #TradeBlockadeOnChinaNow.
Brazil, whose biggest trading partner is China, is the Latin American country hit hardest by the new 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 lawmaker. 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 and that the World Health Organization has advised against. It has also been used by US president Donald Trump.
That prompted China’s consul general in Rio de Janeiro, Li Yang, to ask Eduardo Bolsonaro in an opinion column in Brazilian newspaper O Globo: “Are you really that naive and ignorant?”