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China needn’t crack up over late-night jokes

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Humor doesn’t translate — especially when it’s not funny to begin with. That much is clear from the outrage in China over a segment broadcast on comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show last month. In a bit devoted to asking grown-up questions to children, Kimmel asked a 6-year-old how the United States should deal with the debt it owes China. The child said America should “kill everyone in China.” Then the audience laughed.

ABC erred in broadcasting the tasteless skit, and has apologized. But the criticism in China, where the segment and its fallout have dominated the news, has only grown. Now the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is demanding a “sincere” apology from Kimmel, ABC, and Disney, the network’s owner.

It’s one thing for citizens to protest, and if offended Chinese citizens want to punish Disney by staying away from the new Disneyland under construction in Shanghai, that’s their right. But government involvement raises the stakes considerably. Diplomats, of any nation, should have enough wisdom to separate a childish statement from a real problem. Unless China wants to be judged by its 6-year-olds and TV hosts, its diplomats ought to find better things to do.

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