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Argentine President Ridicules Chinese Accent in Tweet from Beijing

Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is under fire for sending a tweet, during a diplomatic trip to China, in which she attempted to recreate an Asian accent, replacing r’s with l’s.

The head of state tweeted mockingly at her critics who claim that she artificially inflates the number of people who attend her events, noting that more than 1,000 had attended an event in Beijing. She added, “Did they come just for the lice [‘aloz’–an incorrect spelling of ‘arroz,’ or ‘rice’] and petloleum?”

Kirchner has received significant backlash for mocking the accent of those in a nation with which she is hoping to expand diplomatic ties. On Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese social media site, many users expressed anger and frustration at the joke. “A head of a state desperately in need of economic rescue from China, while on Chinese soil, still exudes a racial superiority out of nowhere,” read one comment. “Amazing she has the courage to beg for investment while at the same time ridiculing Chinese people,” said another. Some web users returned the racism to Fernández de Kirchner. “People from small countries have small heads,” said one comment. Others found the joke not necessarily offensive, but certainly tasteless. Said Financial Times journalist Guy Chazan, “Really, this sort of joke went out of fashion in the 70s.” Still, others who heard of the tweet, but could not read it (as Twitter is banned in China), had logistical questions, such as, “She was able to use Twitter in China?” Fernández de Kirchner responded to the controversy with a tweet, saying, “Sorry.”

“Sorry. You know what? The excess of ridiculousness and the absurd is so much, that it can only be digested with humor. Otherwise they are very, very toxic.”

The Chinese government itself has not weighed in on her tweets. Instead, state news outlet Xinhua is running a cover story in which Fernández de Kirchner appears shaking hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, and state spokesmen have given no comment.

Experts tell Bloomberg that Fernández de Kirchner’s latest blunder is part of a larger pattern of carelessness that has only worsened throughout her tenure. “Every day she’s digging herself a bigger hole. … You expect new presidents to make errors at the beginning and to finish well but she’s the opposite,” Sergio Berensztein, a Buenos Aires-based political analyst, told the publication.

The Argentine President is also more prone to such gaffes because she insists on maintaining her own Twitter account and blog, which has also brought her trouble. In her latest, very long blog post, Fernández de Kirchner defended her innocence in the case of slain prosecutor Alberto Nisman, while insisting that his death was “not a suicide” and that “they needed him dead,” without providing a clear answer for who “they” are.

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