Eight-time NBA All-Star and former NBA champion Dwight Howard is facing criticism on Chinese social media after he referred to Taiwan as a country in a promotional video posted to Twitter.
Howard, who has been playing the in the Taiwanese professional basketball league since November, filmed a promotional video for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs alongside Vice President William Lai.
“Hello everyone, I’m Dwight Howard and since I came to Taiwan I’ve gained a whole new appreciation of this country,” the former NBA star said.
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“This place makes me feel so much love and I experience so much hospitality with [a] friendly and great living environment with such a great diverse culture.”
Lai also refers to Taiwan as a “free country.”
According to a Reuters report, the hashtag #HowardTaiwanindependence had nearly 400 million hits on Friday on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo.
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Taiwan first split from mainland China in 1949, but China still claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan. The State Department describes its relations with Taiwan as an “unofficial relationship.”
Howard apologized for his remarks on Friday, adding he does not want to “get involved in politics.”
“Where I’m from if I say I wanna go to the country, it doesn’t not mean that place is a country. It’s just how we talk,” he told local reporters, via CNN.
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“If I offended anyone in China I apologize. It was not my intention to harm anyone with what I said in the commercial.”
He continued, “I am not a politician. I don’t want to get involved in any politics… I have the utmost respect for Chinese people and utmost respect for Taiwanese people, so it was never my intent to disrespect nobody.”