“Fast and Furious 9” star John Cena took a U-turn on Tuesday, apologizing to Chinese fans after calling Taiwan a “country” and sparking outrage in the world’s biggest film market.
Beijing sees democratic, self-governing Taiwan as part of its territory that is to be seized one day, by force if necessary, and furious at any diplomatic attempt to recognize the island as an independent nation.
But American wrestling star-turned-actor Cena left his diplomatic lane to promote the franchise of action films about fast cars during a trip to Taiwan in early May, commenting “country” during a fan meeting.
“I made a mistake, I must say right now. It’s so so so important, I love and respect Chinese people,” Cena said to his 600,000 fans on his Chinese 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 Chinese people.”
The video was played 2.4 million times on a strictly controlled social media site, while Chinese media apologized. According to the Nationalist Global Times newspaper, Fast and Furious 9 rocked the box office during its May 21 release in China last weekend, grossing $ 148 million.
A Weibo handle said, “Please say ‘Taiwan is part of China’ in Chinese language, or we will not accept it.”
The 17-time WWE professional wrestling champion is the latest high-profile westerner to become entangled in a dispute over China’s political interests.
Fashion brands including Burberry, H&M and Nike have had their online stores blocked and logos blurred on Chinese state TV in a row over claims of abuse in Xinjiang province.
China has previously pressured the Australian airline Qantas into listing Taiwan as a Chinese territory.