China and Canada are embroiled in a growing diplomatic ruckus over T-shirts bearing a logo similar to that of the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, but which Beijing contends are instead a coronavirus-related insult.
Canada’s foreign ministry apologized Wednesday for any misunderstanding and said the T-shirts were not meant as a slight.
But the explanation did not satisfy Beijing, prolonging a diplomatic feud that may only raise the volume in an already-strained relationship.
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Photos of the T-shirts, which display the word “Wuhan” over the bat-like logo of the American group, began circulating on the internet in China late last month.
Some online users alleged they were ordered by a Canadian embassy staffer and were an insult to the region where the deadly Covid-19 virus first emerged in late 2019.
Beijing lodged a formal complaint earlier this week and called on Canada to thoroughly investigate the issue.
Canadian foreign ministry spokesperson Christelle Chartrand said in a statement to the Associated Press on Wednesday: “The T-shirt logo designed by a member of the embassy shows a stylized W, and is not intended to represent a bat. It was created for the team of embassy staff working on repatriation of Canadians from Wuhan in early 2020.”
“This was a personal initiative from an employee and this was not endorsed by the embassy nor Global Affairs Canada,” Chartrand said.
Canada, like many other western nations, evacuated its citizens from Wuhan last February as the city went into lockdown.
China nonetheless remained undeterred.
The supposed misunderstanding was “an alibi” China simply could not accept, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on Wednesday.
“It is beyond our belief that senior diplomats who have been working and living in China for years could make such a stupid mistake inadvertently,” Wang said.
“Serious damages have been done by such wrong actions,” he added. “The Chinese people also find this very repulsive and difficult to accept. The Canadian side should take it seriously and give us a clear explanation.”
Asked for Canada’s reaction to the latest escalation, the foreign ministry told NBC News Thursday that it had nothing further to add.
Wu-Tang Clan has yet to comment on the feud on its social media channels. NBC News has reached out to the band for its reaction.
Meanwhile users on Weibo, a popular Chinese social network, have been leaving angry comments under unrelated posts on the Canadian embassy’s account.
It’s suspected that bats could have been a reservoir for the coronavirus before it spread to people in Wuhan, but the origin of the virus has not been definitively established. A group of World Health Organization experts is currently in the region to try to trace where the virus came from.
Beijing has tried to cast doubt over the the pandemic’s origin in China.
While tensions with the U.S. show no sign of abating, its relationship with Canada has also soured in recent years.
Her lawyers have called Meng’s arrest politically motivated and demanded her release.
Ed Flanagan, Salina Li, Matthew Mulligan and The Associated Press contributed.