Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to deny on Wednesday that a post on Twitter showing his dog Mercer enjoying a Winnie the Pooh chew toy was meant to insult Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, who has banned references of the cartoon bear in the country for years after dissidents began comparing their portly builds.
On his personal Twitter account, Pompeo shared a photo of his puppy, Mercer, “and all of her favorite toys!” Mercer appears pleased before an array of chew toys, the most prominent one in the photo being a likeness of Winnie the Pooh.
Mercer and all of her favorite toys!
— Mike Pompeo (@mikepompeo) July 15, 2020
The post immediately triggered speculation that it was meant to insult Xi, including a BBC article that noted “Winnie the Pooh is a common derogatory nickname for Chinese President Xi Jinping.”
“It’s entirely possible that the post could be an innocent photograph of Mr. Pompeo’s dog and her toys, but there are other potential references worth noting in this picture,” the BBC suggested, adding that Winnie the Pooh himself is not the only potential hidden language.
“Mr. Pompeo may have picked up on ‘dog’ as a reference to either the U.S. or himself. The word ‘dog’ in Chinese is often used to reference people or countries that are regarded as aggressive, feral, or wild,” the BBC claimed. “The word ‘dog’ has previously been used by demonstrators in Hong Kong as a term of abuse for police officers. In mainland [communist] China, the U.S. and Mike Pompeo have both consistently been called ‘dogs.’”
Pompeo responded to the BBC article in an interview Wednesday with Iowa radio host Simon Conway, who called the interpretations of the Mercer tweet his “favorite conspiracy theory.” Pompeo denied knowing about any chatter surrounding the photo and, while he did not explicitly say the post was not meant to insult Xi, he denied that Pooh was Mercer’s favorite toy.
“Mercer has about 30 toys that Mercer enjoys, all of them roughly, apparently, equally depending on which one our other dog wants most, as Mercer’s first choice is the one the other dog has,” Pompeo explained. “So no, I imagine there were a series of stuffed animals, and they were equally — equally distributed for Mercer’s benefit.”
Pompeo’s “no” was generally to the speculation surrounding the tweet, which he insisted he previously “hadn’t seen.”
He went on to offer more serious criticism of the brutality of communist China, asserting that Americans “have been fed a bill of goods that if we simply engage with China, that they would leave us alone and behave in a way that was consistent with how other large nations behaved. That hasn’t happened.”
“President Trump has recognized that now, the actions that General Secretary Xi, the leader of China’s Communist Party, is taking are really having an impact, whether that’s on Iowa farmers or manufacturers from the Southwest or citizens who are traveling to Hong Kong,” Pompeo contended. “The risk is increasing, and to our democratic allies in the region, the risk to them is increasing as well. And so President Trump has simply said we’re going to respond by the simple demand that they engage in trading relationships that are fair and reciprocal.”
The administration of President Donald Trump rescinded the special trade status afforded to Hong Kong this week recognizing that its official autonomous status no longer exists in reality following the passage of a “national security” law that allows Beijing to imprison anyone in Hong Kong for a minimum of ten years if found to hold opinions that challenge the Communist Party.
Under the “one country, two systems” policy, Beijing is not allowed to pass laws that apply to Hong Kong. America’s special trade status for Hong Kong was contingent upon the Communist Party not having the power to legislate over Hong Kong.
Winnie the Pooh became a symbol for Xi Jinping in 2013 following a meeting between the dictator and then-President Barack Obama. Social media users compared one photo that appeared to highlight the difference between Obama’s tall, thin body and Xi’s large belly with a photo of Pooh and his best friend Tigger. A year later, social media users and bloggers again compared Xi to Pooh, this time in reference to a photo of Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, compared to Pooh’s morose friend Eeyore. The popularity of references to Xi as Pooh escalated in subsequent years until Xi’s regime banned references to Pooh from Chinese social media websites in 2017.
In addition to erasing all comparison of Xi to Pooh on Chinese social media outlets like Weibo and WeChat, the Communsit Party banned the film Christopher Robin, set in the A.A. Milne world that Pooh calls home, in 2018.
China also appears to have bullied foreign governments into ensuring that any reference to Winnie the Pooh does not occur near Xi himself. In 2018, the government of Spain forced a street performer off of the streets of Madrid during a visit by Xi to the capital city because he was dressed as Winnie the Pooh. The performer did not appear to know about the relationship between Pooh and Xi and expressed confusion at his removal from the streets.