John Cena apologies to furious Chinese fans for calling Taiwan a ‘country’

Professional wrestling and F9 star John Cena has had to make a public apology to millions of Chinese fans after calling Taiwan a country, saying the comment was not appropriate.

John Cena and Charlize Theron in a scene from F9. (AP)
John Cena and Charlize Theron in a scene from F9. (AP)

Cena described Taiwan as a country in a promotional video for the movie Fast and Furious 9 earlier this month to a Taiwanese broadcasting channel, triggering a big backlash in China.

China regards Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy, a breakaway region and has never ruled out reunification by military force.

Following the online backlash, Cena posted a video message in Mandarin on his Twitter-like Weibo account in China on Tuesday, apologising for making the comment.

Cena said he was “sorry” for making the mistake without specifically describing what the mistake was.

“I made a mistake. I must say right now. It’s so important, I love and respect Chinese people,” Cena said to his 600,000 fans on his Weibo account.

“I’m very sorry for my mistakes. Sorry. Sorry. I’m really sorry. You have to understand that I love and respect China and the Chinese people.”

Earlier in May, Cena said Taiwan would be the first country where the film, the latest in Hollywood star Vin Diesel-led blockbuster franchise, would be screened.

The movie was expected to release on May 18 in Taiwan but was postponed following a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Cena’s apology seems to have been made in time.

Fast and Furious 9 is raking in the money in China, which, driven by post-pandemic recovery, is now the largest movie market in the world. It surpassed the US last year, making it a critical sector for Hollywood’s big releases.

According to Chinese state media, Cena’s apology was welcomed by some Chinese netizens, who said he may have been guided by misinformation.

“As Cena said, he is given a lot of information every day, so it’s possible that in the interview in Taiwan, he was deliberately given the wrong information and made a slip of the tongue… but at least he came up and corrected his mistake, rather than hiding and not responding to it,” a Weibo user was quoted as saying by the Global Times.

F9 has been leading China’s box office since Monday, the fourth day of its release. “Featuring a new adventure with the leading characters as high-performance drivers, the movie raked in 67 million yuan (about $10.45 million) on Monday, accounting for nearly 72% of the total daily box office sales,” the official news agency Xinhua reported.

The film was officially released on the Chinese mainland on May 21. It has earned 990 million yuan ($155 million) as of Tuesday evening.

The film worldwide earned $162 million during last weekend, of which a massive $135 million came from China, according to state media.

Cena is the latest western star to be criticised by Chinese online nationalists over Taiwan.

Last week, The popular Thai drama Girl from Nowhere distributed by Netflix – even though the streaming site is blocked in China – faced backlash in China after showing the Taiwan flag.

In the past, China has targeted western entertainers for meeting or interacting with the India-based Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama.

More recently foreign retailers, airlines and hotels have been attacked online in China over Taiwan and on the issue of human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet.

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