Canada said it regretted a "misunderstanding" after China lodged a formal complaint over a diplomat's order of a custom T-shirt displaying the word Wuhan, the city where the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged, over the emblem of hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan.
The logo of the American group is a stylized "W." Reports of the T-shirt order circulating on China's Twitter-like Weibo described it as depicting a bat, without mentioning Wu-Tang Clan. Many scientists suspect bats to have been a reservoir for COVID-19 before it jumped to humans.
It was not immediately clear how images of the T-shirt logo, which the Canadian embassy said was created early last year, came to circulate on Chinese social media.
"We are very shocked by this and have lodged representations with Canada, asking for a thorough investigation and a clear explanation," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in response to a question at a daily briefing on Monday, adding that the virus should not be linked to specific countries or regions.
Beijing has been highly sensitive about the source of the virus, and has sought to cast doubt on the notion that it originated in China.
"The T-shirt logo designed by a member of the Embassy shows a stylized W, and is not intended to represent a bat. It was created for the team of Embassy staff working on repatriation of Canadians from Wuhan in early 2020," a spokesperson for Canada's foreign service told Reuters by email early on Tuesday. "We regret the misunderstanding."
Relations between Beijing and Ottawa have been strained since late 2018, when China arrested two Canadian men and accused them of spying, shortly after Canadian police arrested Huawei Technologies Co Ltd's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant.
A team led by the World Health Organization is in Wuhan investigating the outbreak's origins.
China's Foreign Ministry says it has lodged a solemn representation with the Canadian Embassy over reports staff ordered t-shirts last year with "Wuhan" and a "bat symbol." Per blogger Zhou Xiaoping, this is the image. Any hip-hop fan can tell you though that's a W for the Wu pic.twitter.com/ooTFzh2oRn— Austin Ramzy (@austinramzy) February 1, 2021
Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian. Editing by Tony Munroe and Gerry Doyle