For the 73rd founding anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, Vice President Sara Duterte thought it fitting to address the country days ahead of the celebration — and in Mandarin, no less.
News outlets posted a video of the VP delivering a speech in Mandarin, which immediately made the rounds on social media.
Duterte is apparently the first Philippine top official — let alone a sitting vice president — to deliver the majority of a message in Mandarin. In the short speech, released by the Chinese Embassy of Manila, she thanked China for helping the Philippine’s economy recover from the pandemic and called the nation a “generous neighbor”.
While we couldn’t find any info on whether the VP has studied the language or if she had enlisted the help of a language coach beforehand, her message was the subject of hot debate online, including among Mandarin-speaking Filipinos.
Many users said that Duterte’s incorrect intonation and accent made it harder for her to be understood and could even risk offending listeners, as the meanings of certain words in Chinese can vary greatly based on the tones used.
“I hope she got those words and intonation right. It’s nice to be cute but you better know what you’re saying because Mandarin is not easy,” one user mentioned.
“I speak Mandarin and I did NOT get a word she said… her accent is wrong,” another commented.
“Mandarin has four tones. I can only hear two. The lack of rhythm doesn’t help. Lastly, there are pronunciation issues,” law professor Christopher Lao pointed out.
Another argued that if Duterte was struggling with the language, she could have easily sent her point across in English and hired an interpreter to translate — or relied on good old subtitles.
While addressing another country in their language can be seen as a sign of diplomatic goodwill, some questioned the VP’s decision to make the effort at the moment, considering China is currently embroiled in a territorial conflict with the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea, and because the Philippines is still recovering from the worst typhoon to hit the country so far this year.
“She really put China first over her fellowmen who suffered from the typhoon,” the user said in Filipino.
Whatever one’s take on Duterte’s Mandarin message is, one user reminded netizens that mocking the VP for her accent was no different than mocking Filipinos who speak English with heavy local accents.