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“This Could Change Things for Gay People in China”: Social Media Reacts to Buttigieg Ambassador Reports

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Axios‘ report that US President-elect Joe Biden is considering Pete Buttigieg as his pick for Ambassador to China didn’t take long to cross the Pacific. The story, which claims that “Biden is considering a high-profile ambassadorship” for “Mayor Pete” and is weighing up the possibility of “sending him to China,” made it onto Chinese social media around half an hour after Axios published, sparking some interesting reactions.

Although the report cautioned that, “China isn’t the only foreign post where Buttigieg, a polyglot, could end up,” a number of news outlets have translated the story and pushed it out on Chinese social media platforms. One of the first to do so on microblogging site Weibo was Phoenix New Media, who accompanied their post with an image of Buttigieg and husband Chasten.

buttigieg china ambassador

Phoenix New Media‘s Weibo post on reports that Pete Buttigieg is being considered as US Ambassador to China under Joe Biden

The post’s text was quick to highlight that Buttigieg, who became the first openly gay candidate to launch a major US presidential campaign in 2019, came out publicly in 2015 and married Chasten in 2018. That unfortunately led to some homophobic comments under the story, with one of the most upvoted responses expressing “concern” that if Mayor Pete were to take the post, he would push the issue of LGBTQ+ rights in China. “Good,” read one retort to that comment. “Same-sex equality is imperative.”

While some users expressed concern that making Buttigieg Ambassador would help the cause of those who argue that LGBTQ+ rights is merely a “US-backed initiative” in China, others were cautiously upbeat about what such a high-profile move could mean: “Hopefully this can help change the situation for gay people in China,” wrote one user.

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In political terms, reactions were mixed, with some Chinese commenters worrying whether Buttigieg has the necessary experience to put US-China relations on a better footing than they have been in the last year.

The rapidly rising hashtag “Biden is considering Buttigieg for Ambassador to China” is a sign that the President-elect’s choice for the post will be watched carefully. Xi Jinping’s eventual congratulations to Biden on his election victory also sparked a wave of speculation on Chinese social media over the future of relations between the two countries.

Wenweipo uses an image of the wrong presidential hopeful in its post about Buttigieg

Wenweipo, a Hong Kong-focused news outlet, also attracted some attention for their post of the Buttigieg story, though mostly because they used an image of Bernie Sanders instead of Mayor Pete. “This guy is only 38?” wrote one user. “Looks like the pressures of the job are huge.”

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of RADII and Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for the Associated Press, The Wire, the Financial Times and more.