Even as Chinese authorities struggle to contain the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus epidemic, China has been engaged in a diplomatic battle with Denmark regarding a "insulting" cartoon on coronavirus that the Dutch shared on social media.
Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on Monday carried a satirical cartoon on Monday in which it depicted a distorted Chinese flag with coronavirus icons replacing the five stars.
China is in the midst of one of the worst medical emergencies in recent years with the outbreak of the deadly and mysterious novel coronavirus killing as many as 170 people across the world in a span of days. With over seven thousand confirmed cases in China itself, the country from which the virus originated has had its hands full since the first reported case caught media headlines on Jan 21. Nevertheless, the cartoon did not go down well with China which demanded an apology from the newspaper.
In a statement, the Chinese embassy in Copenhagen expressed its “strong indignation” and said the cartoon printed Monday “is an insult to China”. It added that the drawing “crossed the bottom line of civilised society and the ethical boundary of free speech, and offends human conscience”.
The Danes, however, have refused to cow down to such pressure tactics. Jyllands-Posten’s chief editor, Jacob Nybroe, said the cartoon, which shows the Chinese flag with what resembles viruses instead of the normal stars, was not intended "to mock or ridicule China".
He added that the newspaper "can’t apologise for something we don’t think is wrong … As far as I can see, there are two different types of cultural understanding here."
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said freedom of expression in Denmark includes cartoons.
"We have a very, very strong tradition in Denmark not only for freedom of expression, but also for satirical drawings, and we will have that in the future as well," Frederiksen said. "It is a well-known Danish position, and we will not change that."
Following the news of the embassy demanding an apology, people commented on social media for and against the cartoons, with some noting Frederiksen’s comments that Denmark has freedom of expression while others demanded that the Danish daily apologise.
This is not the first time that Jyllands-Posten has faced heat for its cartoons. Many protested against the paper's decision to print a cartoon depicting Prophet Muhammad, given that Islam prohibits drawing images of him.
(With inputs from Associated Press)