Wang Yang

Mixed reviews over Vice-Premier's light-hearted tone

Vice-premier's humour at opening of Sino-US economic dialogue seen as refreshing by many, but others label his comments inappropriate

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 8:35am

Wang Yang's surprisingly light-hearted tone in Sino-US talks - in which the vice-premier compared the countries' relationship to a "straight" marriage and joked about Americans' "longer" noses - reflects the more direct and personable style of the new Chinese leadership.

But the decision to open a high-level economic dialogue on such a humorous note drew mixed reviews at home. Some saw it as a welcome change from the stern image of many Communist Party leaders. Others thought it was inappropriate.

In Chinese, when we say a pair of new people, it means a newlywed couple. Although US law permits same-sex marriage, this is not what Jacob Lew and I want

Wang's remarks came at a meeting with US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to start the strategic and economic dialogue in Washington on Wednesday. The newly installed vice-premier compared his relationship with Lew, who also took office this year, to a new marriage.

"In Chinese, when we say a pair of new people, it means a newlywed couple," he said, adding with a joke: "Although US law permits same-sex marriage, this is not what Jacob Lew and I want."

But Wang did not stop there. He went on to refer to News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch's recent divorce filing while explaining how China and the United States were bound together despite the inevitable differences between them.

"We cannot go for divorce like Wendi Deng and Rupert Murdoch have done," he said. "It would be too big a price to pay."

In another address to kick off the two-day annual meeting, Wang joked that he was not sure what to expect before making his first visit to the US a decade ago.

"Well, in the past two days, I can see that the Americans are still taller than the Chinese and still have a stronger body and longer nose than the Chinese," Wang said. "And nothing much has changed, so I feel confident of my visit this time."

He made light of the two nations' long cold war estrangement, by way of explaining how far the relationship had come.

"The Chinese were calling the Americans imperialists," he said. "I don't know what the Americans were labelling China, maybe a communist bandit. However, this kind of exchange of accusations and abuses failed to settle anything."

Wang acknowledged that debates between the countries continued. But he said they often had benefits, citing a metaphor used by President Xi Jinping last month in meeting his US counterpart Barack Obama.

"When the rabbit was cornered in a fight with a strong opponent like an eagle, the rabbit would come with some courage to fight back," Wang said.

Beijing Foreign Studies University associate professor Qiao Mu said Wang had presented an image in sharp contrast to the "rigid and stern look" of most Chinese leaders. "His style also suits the calls for officials to be more personable at home."

Professor Zhan Jiang , a media specialist also with Beijing Foreign Studies University, thought Wang was funny and effective. "At least he has shown some of his character," he said.

But some mainland online users said Wang's approach was unbecoming for such a formal setting. "So who's the husband and who's the wife in this marriage?" one blogger wrote. Another one said: "I can't see the humour in such vulgar remarks."