Argentina's president made an extremely offensive joke while meeting China's president

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is making fun of Chinese accents on Twitter while on official business in the country. In a tweet on Wednesday, first reported by Bloomberg, she wrote about her trip, replacing “r”s with “l”s in the words arroz (rice) and petróleo (petroleum).

She then tweeted a non-apology:

Translation: “Sorry. You know what? It’s just that the ridiculousness and absurdity is so high, that it can only be understood through humour. If not, it’s very, very toxic.”

The problem with this — beyond that it’s incredibly insulting to the Chinese — is that it’s bad for Argentina’s economy.

Fernandez needs China. Badly. Since last year, Fernandez has been working with Chinese President Xi Jinping on a currency swap to get cash to her country and replenish Argentina’s notoriously low reserves.

Kirchner chinaREUTERS/Rolex Dela Pena/PoolChinese President Xi Jinping with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday.

Last fall reserves hit their lowest level in some time, at about $US22 billion. The country’s exports, mostly commodities, are really cheap, and its balance of payments is off. Meanwhile, because of outstanding debt and legal issues (mostly with American hedge fund manager Paul Singer) it’s tough for Argentina to raise money in international financial markets.

Between October and December Argentina received about $US2.3 billion from China, but conditions for commodities and for the country are not improving. The country will need more.

Now is not the time to make Xi angry.

And it’s not the time for Fernandez to sound flippant either. Last month the news broke that an Argentine prosecutor investigating the decades-old terrorist bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires was found dead.

The man, Alberto Nisman, was found shot to the head in his apartment in what was meant to look like a suicide. No one believed that story, in part because he was about to present the findings of his investigation to the Argentine legislature. He learned the Fernandez government had covered up the bombing, which was perpetrated by agents of Iran, to secure energy-for-food deals with Iran. Argentina is energy poor.

As yet Nisman’s allegations will not be presented to a court. Two judges who have been asked to hear the case have declined. Meanwhile on Tuesday a draft of an arrest warrant for Fernandez and other members of her government was found in Nisman’s garbage.

So now is not the time for jokes of any kind, really.

Kirchner chinaREUTERS/Rolex Dela Pena/PoolKirchner during the signing ceremony in Beijing on Wednesday.

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