President Barack Obama's ongoing diplomatic sprint in Asia — where he signed a historic climate treaty with China, helped defuse maritime territorial disputes and moved forward a global trade agreement — have been buried under facile criticism of... gum-chewing.
On Wednesday, as the president exited his vehicle to attend a banquet and cultural show ahead of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, live television coverage on China's top state-run channel captured him chewing on a piece of gum. Obama quit smoking cigarettes in 2007, and has been a well-known user of smoking-cessation gum Nicorette during his presidency.
Chinese social media users immediately characterized Obama as an impolite "idler" or careless "rapper." The comments were made and restricted to Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. "We made this meeting so luxurious, with singing and dancing, but see Obama, stepping out of his car chewing gum like an idler," wrote Yin Hong, a professor of journalism at Beijing's Tsinghua University, on his Weibo account.
But American news outlets took the bait as well. The Washington Post called the move "gumchew diplomacy," writing that "it's difficult to find a larger advocate of gum-chewing than the president." The Blaze noted that the president has struggled with smoking throughout his life, while USA Today observed that the "rude one, in the eyes of some Chinese Internet users, was the most prominent guest."
These stories not only demonstrate a lack of understanding of China's social media ecosystem, which is heavily censored by the Chinese government and is often used to front for the ruling communist party, but also show a fickle attention to ridiculous details rather than policy.
As the Internet flips out over gum-chewing, they are missing what's actually happening on this historic trip. Here are five images you probably didn't see: