A cartoon of the Chinese flag by a Belgian cartoonist who replaced the flag's stars with biohazard symbols in reference to the coronavirus outbreak has been slammed as "offensive" by China representatives.
An Chinese business group in Belgium said that the cartoon had "disrespectfully fiddled" with the country's national standard and "seriously hurt the feelings of Chinese people."
Shared by Belgian cartoonist Lectrr on Twitter, the drawing depicts China's flag hoisted on a post with biohazard symbols drawn in place of the flag's five golden stars and the legend "coronavirus" scribbled on top.
Its publication in De Standaard drew sharp criticism from the Association of Chinese Enterprises in Belgium and Luxembourg, which called it "inappropriate" and "offensive to human conscience" in a letter addressed to the Flemish daily.
Doubling down on the association's critique, the Chinese Embassy in Belgium called the drawing "an insult" to the Chinese people and demanded an apology from the newspaper.
The business association said De Standaard's choice of publishing the cartoon "crossed the bottom line of civilised society and the ethical boundary of free speech and offended human conscience."
Demanding that both the newspaper and the cartoonist publicly apologise to the Chinese people, the group further wrote that the cartoon "perpetuated xenophobic rhetoric" at a time when Chinese people were "fighting hard" against the deadly outbreak.
"We do understand the freedom of speech but we know clearly freedom is not absolute, borders and restrictions should be applied," the letter continued, adding that the cartoon violated journalistic standards since it "gave rise to discrimination."
Since it originated in the central city of Wuhan at the end of December, the outbreak has sickened thousands and already spread to every province in the country, including to the province of Xinjiang, where minority Uighur Muslims are involuntarily sent to mass internment camps.
Reacting to the backlash Lectrr, who collaborates with a number of Belgian publications, said he was "not pressured" by the negative reactions.
"I think freedom of expression is important and I will still make cartoons about the virus, I don't feel the pressure to stop," he told HLN.
The Brussels Times