US-China 'bromance', sparked by stolen iPhone, moves China's netizens

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - It was a rare, if bizarre, moment of tenderness in the otherwise tense United States-China relationship: an American journalist embracing the Chinese man who had been using his stolen iPhone.

Mr Matt Stopera and Mr Li Hongjun met for the first time on Tuesday night at an airport in southern China, in the latest chapter of what some Chinese are calling an international "bromance".

In February, Mr Stopera, a New York-based writer for website Buzzfeed, became famous in China for an article describing how photos from China began to appear on his phone's photo stream after his iPhone was stolen in New York.

Chinese netizens tracked the photos, and the stolen iPhone, to Mr Li Hongjun, a 30-year-old restaurateur in Meizhou, a city in the southern province of Guangdong. Mr Li and Mr Stopera, 25, connected online and planned this week's meeting in Meizhou.

Mr Li, known online as Brother Orange after his selfies with tangerine trees showed up in Mr Stopera's photo stream, said his nephew gave him the second-hand phone as a gift last October, but he had no idea where the phone came from.

Many iPhones stolen in the US end up in China.

Fittingly for a relationship developed over the Internet, the activities of Mr Stopera and Mr Li in Meizhou were exhaustively documented online.

Mr Stopera, whose month-old Weibo account has nearly 180,000 fans, posted pictures of himself eating Chinese porridge and pickled radish, planting a tree, and taking a selfie with Mr Li and tangerine trees.

Weibo users seemed tickled by the duo. "A genuine and slightly serious middle aged man versus an amiable, smiley American fellow - such an interesting pair," wrote one user.

Reached by telephone, Mr Li said his life had not changed much since meeting Mr Stopera. "It's no big deal if customers want to take pictures with me. People call me 'Brother Orange', or take pictures of me when I'm walking on the street. It doesn't bother me. It feels really good."

Meizhou, a city of about five million people about 2,000km from the capital Beijing, is about 360km from Shenzhen, where Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn makes iPhones.