Russian President Vladimir Putin raises eyebrows for putting his coat on Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (right) helps put a blanket on Peng Liyuan, wife of China's President Xi Jinping, as they watch a lights and fireworks show to celebrate Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting, at National Aquatics
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (right) helps put a blanket on Peng Liyuan, wife of China's President Xi Jinping, as they watch a lights and fireworks show to celebrate Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting, at National Aquatics Center, or Water Cube, in Beijing, China on Nov 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (right), Peng Liyuan (second right), her husband Chinese President Xi Jinping (second left) and US President Barack Obama (left) watching a light show over the Beijing's Olympic Stadium during the Apec Summit. -- PHO
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (right), Peng Liyuan (second right), her husband Chinese President Xi Jinping (second left) and US President Barack Obama (left) watching a light show over the Beijing's Olympic Stadium during the Apec Summit. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - Add this to the list of things not to do at a diplomatic dinner: Russian President Vladimir Putin has set the international media and Internet aflame by putting his coat on the shoulders of China's First Lady Peng Liyuan.

In the video shown on China's state broadcaster CCTV, Chinese President Xi Jinping is deep in conversation with US President Barack Obama via a translator at the dinner on Monday. Ms Peng is seated to the right of her husband, with the newly single Mr Putin beside her. The Russian leader announced his divorce last year.

In the video, Mr Putin reaches under the table and drapes what looks like a tan coat over Ms Peng's shoulders. They exchange words but it isn't clear what they are saying.

The commentator said in Mandarin: "We just saw President Putin specially draping a coat on Peng Liyuan."


PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

Seconds later, Ms Peng slips it off and hands it to an attendant while discreetly replacing it with her own black coat.

Did she hurt Mr Putin's feelings? We may never know.

Later reports on the incident said that Mr Putin had in fact placed a shawl on Ms Peng, not a coat.

Foreign Policy website wrote of the incident: "The first unspoken rule of diplomacy might be 'Don't hit on the president's wife', but Russia's newly single president Vladimir Putin seems to have missed the memo."

The magazine also said that the video began circulating online, but within hours, censors had pulled it off Chinese social media and websites.

A number of Chinese online articles and microblog posts that The Straits Times tried to access had been taken down by Tuesday morning.

International media has already dubbed the incident "coatgate". A hashtag, Putin Gives Peng Liyuan His Coat, reportedly made its rounds on Weibo, China's microblogging site, as well.

Chinese site guancha.cn noted that it could just be an act of chilvalry for the Russian leader, who did the same for German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a G20 Summit in St Petersburg last year.

Some sharp-eyed observers also said that in the video, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is relegated to a back row, while the other leaders chatted amiably in the front.

Mr Putin finalised his divorce from his wife of 30 years Lyudmila Putina earlier this year. He has denied an affair with 30-year-old Olympic rhythmic gymnast and Russian MP Alina Kabaeva.

chuimin@sph.com.sg