25th Mar 2018

Oettinger apologises over China insults

  • Oettinger: "I had time to reflect on my speech, and I can now see that the words I used have created bad feelings and may even have hurt people" (Photo: European Parliament)

EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger apologised on Thursday (3 November) about controversial remarks he made last week about Chinese people and Wallonia.

"I had time to reflect on my speech, and I can now see that the words I used have created bad feelings and may even have hurt people," the German commissioner said in a statement published by the commission.

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"This was not my intention and I would like to apologise for any remark that was not as respectful as it should have been."

Oettinger, who is currently in charge of digital economy but is set to become a commission vice-president in charge of the EU budget, was filmed in Hamburg saying to business people that Chinese were "slant eyes" and "comb their hair with shoe polish".

After the video was released on internet, he said the film had been cut and his words taken out of context. The commission's spokesman on Monday said that he would "refrain from any value judgement".

But on Wednesday the Chinese foreign affairs minister said that the remarks demonstrated "a baffling sense of superiority entrenched in some Western politicians" and asked for "mutual respect".

Oettinger in the statement explained that he had been "frank and open" in order to "give a wake-up call to the German audience". He said he took "some examples" to explain that Germany and Europe "need to set the right priorities" to stay competitive in the world.

"I have great respect for the dynamics of the Chinese economy," he said in the statement.

"China is a partner and a tough competitor. Therefore we need a level playing field where Chinese companies can buy European ones and European companies can buy Chinese ones. It is important to have that access on both sides – and I see room for improvement here."

Oettinger was also under criticism for having said that Wallonia, the French-speaking Belgian region that delayed the signing of a EU-Canada trade deal, was "a micro-region run by communists that blocks all Europe”.

In his apology, he said: "I regret that some of my remarks were misquoted regarding Wallonia which is not only historically an important European region, but actively contributes to the cultural and political diversity of Europe."


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