Mixed reactions on Chinese social media to news of Pete Buttigieg’s possible ambassadorship

Foreign Affairs

News about the potential appointment also received swift — and divided — reactions from social media users in China, with some expressing hope that Buttigieg could be a strong advocate for China’s LGBTQ community, but others calling his homosexuality “an affront to Chinese values and sensibilities.”

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Earlier this week, Axios reported, based on multiple unnamed sources, that President-elect Joe Biden was considering appointing his former presidential rival Pete Buttigieg to be his ambassador to China.

While the article stressed that “China isn’t the only foreign post where Buttigieg, a polyglot, could end up,” and that “his name remains under discussion for some domestic leadership positions as well,” several Chinese media outlets were quick to pick up the story, with few of them highlighting the prospect of Buttigieg being the first openly gay U.S. ambassador to the country.

“In 2015, Buttigieg came out as gay,” Phoenix News wrote (in Chinese) in a Weibo post on December 9. “In 2018, he married his spouse, Chasten Buttigieg, at a church in South Bend. The couple invited more than 200 guests to their wedding.”

In another celebratory post (in Chinese) made by the Voice of LGBT — a Weibo-based digital magazine with a focus on the gay community in China — the organization showed excitement at the rumor, writing, “China is likely to have its first gay U.S. ambassador!”

News about the potential appointment also received swift — and divided — reactions from social media users in China, with some expressing hope that Buttigieg could be a strong advocate for China’s LGBTQ community, but others calling his homosexuality “an affront to Chinese values and sensibilities.”

“I really hope he will challenge social exclusion and improve lives for gay people in China,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese), while another one commented (in Chinese), “We need more cultural imports like this.”

Some were cautiously optimistic, but warned that making Buttigieg ambassador would reinforce the popular yet unsubstantiated idea that LGBTQ rights have become a tool for the U.S. to promote its ideologies and preserve its hegemony. “When it comes to LGBTQ activism in China, things can get complicated when politics is involved,” a Weibo commenter noted (in Chinese).

And judging from the deluge of negative responses on social media, the concern is not entirely unfounded. “If this is true, the appointment must be a calculated move on Biden’s part to humiliate China,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese). Another scathing comment read (in Chinese), “This is an example of political correctness outweighing experience. It’s just too progressive for my taste.”

Putting Buttigieg’s personal life aside, many of the comments asked Chinese media to stop focusing on Buttigieg’s sexual identity, and to put more emphasis on how the future ambassador can bring U.S.-China relations back from the cliff edge. “No matter who gets the job, I just want him to be competent and stay in his lane,” wrote (in Chinese) a Weibo user.