It took a week, but Clive Palmer has finally swallowed his pride and apologised for his outburst on the ABC’s Q&A program in which he referred to Chinese “bastards” and “mongrels”.
"I regret any hurt or anguish such comments may have caused any party and I look forward to greater understanding for peace and cooperation in the future," he wrote in a letter to China's ambassador, Ma Zhaoxu.
"I now come to the realisation that what I said on Q&A was an insult to Chinese people everywhere and I wish to assure them they have my most genuine and sincere apology," he wrote.
But judging from the reaction to the tirade on Chinese social media, he needn’t have apologised at all. A surprising number of comments on China’s main micro-blogging service Weibo welcomed Palmer’s initial comments.
The most popular post about the incident which, as of writing, has been forwarded 3588 times and has 1689 comments, reveals a unexpectedly high amount of support for his tirade. In fact, of the top ten most liked comments on that post, all ten agree with him.
The most liked comment, by Weibo user Gu Wan Ju Shi, reflects the cynicism many more liberal Chinese people feel towards the fiercely nationalistic Global Times.
“He’s definitely cursing the Chinese government, don’t think that by omitting the full text of his remarks we won’t know that,” the user wrote.
The second most liked comment, by Zeng Shengmin, who is listed as the CIO at a software company in Guangzhou Province, expresses gratitude towards the member for Fairfax for his comments.
“Thank you to this Australian member of parliament for taking a principled stand on behalf of the Chinese people,” he writes.
Yet another comment by user Feng Mang Blue reads: "If he's not referring to the Chinese people, then he's exactly right."
The surprising reaction is most likely a result of some over-reach in the Global Times’ reporting. Curiously, in the original Chinese version of an op-ed published last week, the paper chose to translate Palmer’s "they shoot their own people" comment as "massacre their own people".
Now that oblique reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 has been met with agreement, soul-searching and ridicule of the Chinese nationalist press.
Admittedly, Weibo does have a liberal bent, but the outpouring of support has still been startling.
At least eight posts on the topic were censored according to Weiboscope, a Chinese social media data collection and visualisation project run out of the University of Hong Kong.
Now with Palmer’s unreserved and grovelling apology and with the Australian governments move to ‘distance’ themselves from his remarks, these internet users have been left out to dry.
China’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, is already making hay of Palmer’s backflip and have tweeted the apology in full.
This whole unedifying affair comes just a month after foreign minister Julie Bishop declared that “China doesn’t respect weakness” and that Australia would be taking a much more robust stance towards defending peace, liberal values and the rule of law.
China’s human rights issue should not be a plaything of a political and economical elite who bring it up when they want to seem principled, only to cynically discard it when it becomes inconvenient.
Meanwhile, a story about a racist rant targeting a Chinese woman on a Perth train last week was the fourth most searched for topic on Weibo this morning.
At this rate, if all Chinese people end up thinking Australians are unprincipled racists, who could blame them?