‘Winnie the Pooh’ told to stay out of sight during Xi Jinping’s Madrid visit
"Winnie the Pooh" was banished from central Madrid ahead of a visit by Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, this week, sparing Spain from an embarrassing faux pas.
A street performer who makes his daily living by posing for photographs in Sol Square dressed in a furry Pooh costume has told Spanish media that police officers asked him to stay out of view as Mr Xi’s motorcade passed on the way to Madrid’s historic town hall building.
“I didn’t make a fuss about it. It was only 20 or 30 minutes,” the man told the digital newspaper eldiario.es, adding that the police officers explained to him that Mr Xi could be offended by the sight of his costume because of online jibes in China comparing his appearance with that of the rotund children’s book character.
“If it’s offensive, I understand that they would ask me to step aside," he said.
Memes comparing Mr Xi with the Winnie the Pooh started when the Chinese leader met Barack Obama in 2013, with the then US president cast as a sprightly Tigger.
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The following year, a meeting with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, led to the appearance of similar memes, with Pooh this time accompanied by the more sombre figure of Eeyore the donkey.
In August, Chinese authorities denied a release to Disney’s latest Winnie the Pooh film, Christopher Robin, apparently confirming a crackdown on the cartoon character after references to Pooh were blocked on social media in 2017.
Chinese dissidents, NGOs including Amnesty International and opposition politicians in Spain criticised the Spanish government for not including human rights on the official agenda for Mr Xi’s three-day visit, the first by a Chinese premier in 13 years.
Spain’s government signed 20 accords with China, including agreements to allow for increased exports of Spanish grapes and pork meat on the bone, allowing for the shipment of whole hams to a country where appetite for Spanish ‘jamón’ has grown rapidly in recent years.
Diplomatic sources have said that Spain declined China’s offer to join the Belt and Road Initiative in infrastructure as other EU members have done, with Madrid stating its preference for an attempt to coordinate China’s programme with European plans to develop connectivity and transport links with Asia.