If anyone is going to make headlines at a staid affair like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, it's going to be Vladimir Putin. The swaggering Russian president did passive observers of global leadership conferences a solid on Monday with an act of gallantry (or benign sexism) for the ages.
Amid the high pageantry of the summit's opening dinner, Putin stood up to gracefully place a blanket around the shoulders of Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan. Here is the footage:
News of the mini-scandal went far and wide. "Vladimir Putin cracks on to China's first lady," wrote the Sydney Morning Herald. "Too Friendly?" asked Al Arabiya. Vox, for its part, presented 17 questions about the incident.
As news of the "cover up" spread, Chinese media sites began to censor the footage, even as it was being enthusiastically discussed on social media. As Foreign Policy noted, "Within hours of posting the video, Chinese news sites had already pulled it off their sites, and censors scrubbed it from social media sites."
Was Putin just displaying good manners, or was some debonair diplomacy at work? (Today is Single's Day in China, after all.) Ahead of the APEC summit, much ink was devoted the extant challenges of an American strategic courtship of China. As The New York Times reported, Russia's ambassador to the United States threw down the gauntlet last week, tweeting “You are pivoting to Asia, but we’re already there.”
In other words, Monday evening's very brief episode may have been Russian turf-marking at its most obvious. Consider that while all this was going on, Chinese President Xi Jinping was otherwise occupied, having a casual chat nearby with President Obama.
What is mostly being unheralded here, however, is just how quickly First Lady Peng Liyuan rebuffs her would-be Vronsky. For those keeping track at home, it takes her about four seconds to slip off Putin's shawl in favor of her own jacket. Let's hope China shows footage of that forever.