Brazilian Minister of Education Abraham Weintraub promised to apologize to the Chinese government on Monday if Beijing offered to sell 1,000 respirators to the South American country.
Weintraub had outraged the Communist Party embassy in Brasilia with a tweet in which he mocked Chinese accents in Portuguese, posted on Saturday but since deleted.
Weintraub’s post implied that China was on a quest for “world domination” and that it would come out of the current Chinese coronavirus pandemic “strengthened” by the relative weakness of the rest of the world. The education minister used a cartoon featuring Cebolinha, a character in a comic called Monica’s Gang known from switching the letters R and L while speaking. While Cebolinha (“Scallion”) does not appear to be Chinese, switching the two letters is a common racist trope in mockery of east Asian accents.
While Weintraub deleted the tweet, it lived on in screencaps, and he confirmed in an interview Monday that he did, in fact, send it, and he deleted it at the request of an unnamed friend.
“Geopolitically, who could come out strengthened in Lelative teLms, from this global cLisis? Could it be Cebolinha?” Weintraub wrote, replacing many of the Rs appearing in the Portuguese language words he used with Ls. “Who are the allies from BLazil of Cebolinha’s infallible plan to dominate the world? Could it be Cascao or are there other little friends?”
Cascão (“Smudge”) is another character in Monica’s Gang. The cartoon attached featured the comic’s characters alongside a panda and a Chinese flag, all gathered on what looks like the Great Wall of China.
Weintraub usou personagens da Mônica para ridicularizar a China. No Twitter, publicou capa de uma revista com a bandeira chinesa, acrescentando uma mensagem jocosa, trocando a letra "r" por "l", como Cebolinha. Vê-se, mais uma contribuição do governo para a diplomacia brasileira. pic.twitter.com/OQD2wmyixc
— Rômulo Moreira (@romuloamoreira) April 5, 2020
Chinese diplomats reacted with outrage to the mockery inherent in the message as well as the insinuation that the Communist Party may benefit from the pandemic. The Chinese embassy in Brasilia issued a statement calling his post “absurd and despicable” and accused it of having “a strongly racist nature and unspeakable objectives,” according to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo.
The embassy also claimed that Weintraub had “stigmatized” China by “associating it with the origin of COVID-19 [the Chinese coronavirus].” The official Chinese government stance on the coronavirus is that the U.S. Army manufactured it in a laboratory in Maryland, a claim for which Beijing has presented no evidence.
The Chinese Communist Party has a noted recent history of bigoted remarks towards Brazilians. In 2018, the Global Times, a government-run propaganda newspaper, published a column proclaiming the Brazilian people inferior to the Chinese.
“Brazilians are not willing to be as diligent and hard working as the Chinese. Neither do they value savings for the next generation, like the Chinese do,” the column read. “Yet they demand the same welfare and benefits as those in developed countries.”
The column concluded that “it may be racist” to say, but Brazil was “unsuitable for manufacturing” due to the inferiority of the Brazilian people to the Chinese.
In a radio interview with Brazilian journalist José Luiz Datena on Monday, Weintraub said he was willing to apologize to the Chinese communist regime, but only in exchange for much-needed respirators.
“I am Brazilian. Therefore, I will do the following, I commit to this here: I go over there [to the Chinese embassy], I ask for forgiveness, I say ‘please, forgive my idiocy,'” Weintraub proposed, according to the left-wing newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, “and the only condition I have is that, out of the 60,000 respirators that they have available, they sell 1,000 of them to the MEC [Ministry of Education and Culture] to save the lives of Brazilians, for the retail price.”
The MEC runs several university hospitals, which Weintraub noted were running short on respirators.
“If they give us these respirators … I go over there and I say sorry and say I’m an idiot, I’m an imbecile,” Weintraub added.
The minister also refused to back down on the implication that China could have warned the world of a highly contagious disease earlier than it did so and saved lives.
“The government of the Chinese Republic, where the coronavirus originated, could have alerted the whole world … that was not done,” he noted, according to Folha. “Now that we’re desperate for a respirator, what happens? 60,000 respirators appear in China, and they are being auctioned. A lot of equipment, protection, masks, and they’re auctioning [them]. So, there was time for them to prepare to sell to the world, at the highest price, respirators and masks.”
While O Globo claimed that Weintraub had accused China of failing to alert the world of the virus on time without evidence, multiple studies and a growing number of health experts are unveiling evidence that China actively concealed the extent of the threat of coronavirus, in part through arresting and disappearing doctors in Wuhan who warned colleagues to take precautionary measures. One study found that China could have prevented as many as 95 percent of the world’s coronavirus infections if it had listened to its own doctors.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who won the presidency in 2018 on a hardline conservative platform, has largely used his influence to expand trade with communist China while proclaiming himself Latin America’s most vocal anti-communist head of government. In Beijing in October, Bolsonaro signed eight deals with dictator Xi Jinping, most of a financial and diplomatic nature. Bolsonaro then met with Xi again at a summit in November, where they discussed expanding agricultural trade.
Bolsonaro has largely rejected the lockdown measures and social distancing used in much of the world to contain the spread of the highly contagious Chinese coronavirus.
“The virus is here, we’re going to have to confront it. Confront it like a man, not a boy!” the president said at an event in March in which he gathered a large crowd of supporters. “We’re all going to die one day.”