BEIJING — In an era when China is intensely sensitive to its global image, even the utterances of Hollywood actors can draw pronouncements from the Foreign Ministry.
The latest to come under fire is actress Sharon Stone, who recently suggested that the May 12 earthquake that killed 68,500 people in southwest China might have been the result of bad “karma” over its treatment of Tibet.
On Thursday, the Chinese branch of one of Stone’s sponsors, the French fashion house Christian Dior, issued an apology on her behalf, saying she was “deeply sorry.”
And Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang accepted Stone’s apology when the issue arose at a regular news briefing: “We hope that as an actress she should contribute to our two peoples’ mutual trust, understanding and friendship.”
The quick response might make it seem like Beijing is closely monitoring its global image, which took a bruising in the past two months over its handling of unrest among ethnic Tibetans and protests that greeted a global torch relay before the Beijing Summer Olympic Games.
In fact, ordinary Chinese Internet users, who are quickly aroused by slights from abroad, usually are the force prodding the government to action. After a video of Stone’s remarks, made at the Cannes Film Festival last week, were posted on YouTube, a video-sharing Web site, the Internet reaction was so fierce that newspapers picked up the story.
One newspaper, the Information Times, carried a front-page headline Wednesday declaring: “Sharon Stone is an enemy of the whole nation.”
The same day, the Chinese UME cinema chain announced that it would stop showing any movies by the 50-year-old actress, best known for the 1992 movie Basic Instinct and Catwoman in 2004.
In off-the-cuff remarks, the actress said she was “not happy” with the way China treats Tibetans and wondered how the world should react to the Beijing Olympics “because they’re not being nice to the Dalai Lama, who’s a good friend of mine.”
She added: “And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and I thought, ‘Is that karma when you’re not nice that the bad things happen to you?’”
In a statement issued by the China office of Dior, for which Stone models, the actress said: “Due to my inappropriate words and acts during the interview, I feel deeply sorry and sad about hurting Chinese people. I am willing to take part in the relief work of China's earthquake, and wholly devote myself to helping affected Chinese people.”
If Dior reacted quickly, it only had to look at the pummeling fellow French retailer Carrefour took in late April to understand the consequences of angering Chinese consumers. Some Chinese accused Carrefour of supporting pro-Tibetan independence groups, and launched a boycott drive. Dior is seeking to expand aggressively in China, the world’s fastest growing major economy.
Stone is not the first foreigner to arouse indignation in China recently. In early April, CNN commentator Jack Cafferty called Chinese products “junk” and said the Chinese were “basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the last 50 years.” The remarks drew street protests, and CNN’s president later apologized.
One overseas analyst of Chinese affairs said the Chinese reaction to Stone could rebound negatively outside the country.
“Forcing her to apologize for holding a personal view on how her friend the Dalai Lama has been treated makes China appear like a bit of a bully,” said Steve Tsang, a lecturer on contemporary China at Oxford University in England.
While China’s Foreign Ministry may be keeping abreast of Sharon Stone’s remarks, its diplomats are less well-schooled on other aspects of what appears on the Internet — specifically how some admirers had set up a Web page for Premier Wen Jiabao on Facebook, a social networking site.
Qin, a dapper youngish spokesman, was asked about the Facebook page, which has drawn more than 21,800 admirers of the premier, but the question clearly drew a blank. A Russian journalist blurted out, “It’s an American Web site!”
“I’m not even aware of such a Web site, of this ‘Facebook,’” Qin said.
ON THE WEB
Premier Wen’s Facebook Web site.