German EU commissioner apologizes for ‘slant eyes’ Chinese remark following mounting criticism

European Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger © Francois Lenoir
EU Commissioner Gunther Oettinger says he’s finally seen the light after a barrage of criticism over his racist “slant eyes” remark about Chinese people and comments on gay marriage. After his initial refusal to apologize, he’s suddenly done a U-turn.

The German Christian Democrat politician gave a speech to business leaders in Brussels last week, where he mocked the Chinese delegation with their “slant eyes” and “hair brushed from left to right with black shoe polish.” All of this was taped secretly by a local journalist, then uploaded to YouTube by an anonymous account, leading to the avalanche of criticism by the public.

The Chinese government was understandably furious.

The relevant remarks reveal a baffling sense of superiority entrenched in some Western politicians,” Beijing’s Foreign Ministry shot back, according to AFP. “We hope that they can learn how to view themselves and others objectively and respect and treat others as equals.”

Oettinger was then confronted by another journalist in the street over his remarks, but appeared cavalier and brushed the incident off, saying he had already issued a statement and had “nothing to apologize for.” This was after, in a Die Welt interview, he had said his words were “a somewhat sloppy expression that was not meant in any way disrespectfully toward China.”

This changed on Thursday, when Oettinger suddenly emerged with different words.

“I can now see that the words I used have created bad feelings and may even have hurt people. This was not my intention and I would like to apologize for any remark that was not as respectful as it should have been,” he said, according to Reuters.

He then explained his remarks were intended more as a wakeup call about the dangers of reducing the pension age and increasing pensions domestically – something he says would make Germany lose its competitive edge.

He had also apologized for his earlier remarks about the Belgian region of Wallonia, which lodged a complaint with the EU commission over Oettinger’s description of it as “a micro-region run by communists that blocks Europe.” This was in reference to the socialist-run parliament there slowing down a trade deal with Canada.

Oettinger emerged with descriptions later of how Wallonia was a very historically important region that “actively contributes to the cultural and political diversity of Europe.”

He did not apologize for his earlier comment regarding his attitude toward “compulsory gay marriage,” as he referred to it in criticism.

The German politician’s remarks come at an inopportune moment for the EU, which recently granted Oettinger the honorable post of EC budget commissioner. He still hasn’t started on his new job, and a panel will be evaluating his suitability for it before 2016 is out.