China demands apology from Danish newspaper for 'satirical' coronavirus cartoon

Chinese officials demanded a public apology from a Danish newspaper on Tuesday for publishing a cartoon replacing the five stars on the national flag of the People's Republic of China with drawings of five microscopic particles of the coronavirus.

Among the largest selling newspapers in Denmark, Jyllands-Posten published the cartoon Monday along with a story about the coronavirus, which has killed at least 106 people in China and infected nearly 3,000 people worldwide since its outbreak from the Chinese central city of Wuhan in the Hubei province.

China’s embassy in Denmark said the “satirical drawing” by the Danish artist Niels Bo Bojesen was “lacking any form of sympathy or empathy,” and “transcended the lower boundaries of civilized society and the ethical boundary of freedom of expression, and insults human conscience.”

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“The current outbreak of a new coronavirus has cost 81 precious lives in China,” the embassy said in a statement Tuesday, including a lower count of the virus’ death toll.

“At the same time as the Chinese government and the Chinese people are making every effort to combat this unusual and urgent health threat, Jyllands-Posten has published a ‘satirical drawing’ by Niels Bo Bojesen which is an insult to China and hurts the feelings of the Chinese people.”

“We express our strong indignation and demand that Jyllands-Posten and Niels Bo Bojesen repent their mistake and publicly apologize to the Chinese people,” the Chinese embassy said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Jyllands-Posten managing editor Jacob Nybroe refused to apologize for the satirical cartoon of the Chinese flag, telling local media, according to Reuters, that the drawing simply illustrates that China is battling the virus.  

“We cannot apologize for something that we don’t believe is wrong,” Nybroe told Danish newswire Ritzau. “We have no intention of demeaning or mocking the situation in China and we don’t think the drawing does that.”

Danish politicians voiced their support for the newspaper Tuesday. Conservative Party leader Søren Pape Poulsen wrote in Danish on Twitter: “Full support for Jyllands-Posten.”

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The Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Denmark (CCCD) echoed the embassy’s criticism of the cartoon.

“We respect the freedom of speech and, in particular, the personal freedom to express one's attitude, interpretation and attitude,” CCCD general secretary John Liu said in a statement, according to The Local, Denmark’s English language news source. “However, we find that cartoonist Niels Bo Bojesen lacks manners and personal qualities such as compassion and sympathy. The drawing of the coronavirus on the Chinese flag expresses only mockery, ridicule and derision of the Chinese people who right now need the care and support of the outside world.”

The same newspaper in 2005 sparked outrage across the Muslim world for its satirical drawings of the Prophet Muhammad. Five years after the cartoon’s publication, Danish police arrested three men for plotting a terrorist attack at the Jyllands-Posten building in Copenhagen.