[BEIJING] Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner was assailed at home and abroad Thursday after an undiplomatic tweet during a state visit to China, in which she seemingly poked fun at Asian difficulties pronouncing the letters L and R.
Ms Kirchner, on a mission to China to expand trade and political ties, tweeted in Spanish on the number of people attending one of her events in Beijing, asking: "Are they all with La Campola?" She was referring to La Campora, her party's youth organisation, led by her son.
"Or, are they only there for the lice (rice) and petloleum (petroleum)?" she added.
It was a play on a political joke from home: Ms Kirchner's detractors say that her supporters only attend party events so they can get a free sandwich and a soda.
After the tweets triggered criticism and accusations of racism, she followed up with another saying: "Sorry. You know what? There is too, too much craziness and absurdity, only humour can get you through it." The Argentine president is already under the spotlight at home after the suspicious death of a prosecutor.
While the tweet was prominently covered in Argentine and international media, China's government-run news outlets carried no mention of the gaffe or commented on its diplomatic implications.
Twitter has been banned in mainland China since 2009, over fears it could be used to organise protests, with Chinese using home-grown platforms that strictly adhere to government censorship orders.
Facebook, YouTube and Google are also inaccessible from within China, which uses a system dubbed the Great Firewall to filter what content is allowed in.
But posters on Chinese social media sites were still disdainful, with some pointing out that Ms Kirchner was referring to more of a Japanese tendency than a Chinese one.
"How about you say two sentences in Chinese so I can hear your pronunciation?" asked one.
Another user on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service, added: "Amazing she has the courage to beg for investment while at the same time ridiculing Chinese people." Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Argentina in July and the two countries announced Chinese plans for investments totalling US$7 billion, in industries including hydroelectric power, shipbuilding, railways and a deal to help Argentina build its fourth nuclear plant.
China will contribute US$4.4 billion towards the construction of two hydroelectric dams in Argentina's southern Santa Cruz province, and put US$2.1 billion into rail transport.
Mr Xi is trying to build closer ties with Latin America and recently hosted China-CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) in Beijing, eyeing a region that has traditionally been Washington's backyard.
Ms Kirchner, 61, Argentina's first elected female president, is a lawyer and former lawmaker who succeeded her husband, the late president Nestor Kirchner.
She said she had been determined to make the trip to China despite being advised not to travel by doctors because she is still recovering from a broken ankle.