As Chinese president Xi Jinping glided down Beijing’s Chang’an Avenue on Thursday to inspect the country’s Victory Day military parade, viewers at home were perplexed by the leader’s unorthodox left-handed salute to the ranks of troops.

The image soon circulated widely online along with jokes about the president not knowing how to salute properly. By Friday morning, however, state media had launched concerted efforts to quash the damaging implications of Xi’s poor etiquette.

Xi’s left-handed salute/wave. Photo: People’s Daily.

Websites nationwide carried a story from government mouthpiece People’s Daily defending Xi’s hand gesture. Titled “Xi Jinping’s left-handed salute was in fact a wave to soldiers,” the laconically worded article explains the situation thus:

“Some internet users found during the military parade that Xi Bigbig [state media’s nickname for Xi] saluted with his left hand as he rode in the inspection car… some people had doubt while other internet users came up with their own explanations… In fact, it was just a camera angle error. Xi was waving to armed forces generals at the time.”

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Ryan Ho Kilpatrick

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others