Paralympic Chief Is Sorry for Calling Xi Jinping President of the Wrong China

The Games’ organizer said its leader unintentionally made the error because he was too emotional.
Paralympic Official Is Sorry for Calling Xi Jinping President of the Wrong China
Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China, attends the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in February. Photo: Anthony Wallace - Pool/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s White House did it. The Philippine defense ministry did it. Now the head of the Paralympic Games has joined the ranks of those who have embarrassed themselves by mixing up the two Chinas on the global stage.

During an impassioned speech at the Beijing Winter Paralympics opening ceremony on Friday, the Games’ president, Andrew Parsons, mistakenly addressed People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping as the leader of the Republic of China, the official name of Taiwan.

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It’s not as bad as calling Xi “Eleven Jinping,” as an Indian news anchor did in 2014, but the gaffe happened at an awkward time with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine inspiring renewed debate on Beijing’s potential invasion of self-ruled Taiwan. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said Parsons had since apologized for the mistake.

Parsons made an unintentional blunder because he was “very emotional,” the IPC said in a statement posted on its Chinese social media account on Weibo.

In 2017, the Trump administration notably made the same mistake, calling Xi the president of the Republic of China in a statement. Three years later, Trump’s secretary of health, Alex Azar, called Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen “President Xi” at a press conference.

China did not say anything suggesting it took offense at Parsons’ mistake, but it did appear to disapprove of what the Paralympic official said about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

In his speech, Parsons told attendees that he was “horrified” by what was going on in the world, alluding to the continuing crisis in Ukraine. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to invade on Feb. 24, an estimated 364 civilians have been killed and more than 1 million people have fled the country.

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“The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate,” Parsons said in his speech.

But his denunciation of war was not translated into Chinese during the live broadcast by state-run CCTV. A Chinese announcer skipped that part of Parsons’ statement, and when the Paralympic official went on to mention a truce, the broadcaster turned down the volume of his speech.

This happened after the International Paralympic Committee was criticised for apparent double standards. The body has failed to condemn China’s human rights abuses, but it jumped to denounce Russia’s assault on Ukraine, even banning Russian athletes from competing at the Paralympic Winter Games.

The Paralympic organizer said Saturday it was waiting for an explanation from China for CCTV’s apparent censorship of Parsons’ anti-war speech. 

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