BEIJING -- In the race for manliest world leader, Vladmir Putin has been leaving all others in the dust for years.
Already famous for his iron-pumping, horse-riding, tiger-hunting ways and his affinity for being photographed sans shirt with buff pectorals prominently glistening, the Russian president proved at a world summit Monday night that his irrepressible masculinity also has a suave side.
Let us set the stage for the latest entry in the already long annals of Putin’s exploits:
It’s Monday night -- the opening dinner attended by a who’s who of world leaders to kick off the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing. The host, Chinese President Xi Jinping, is distracted chatting idly with President Obama on his right. To his left, Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, exchanges a few words with Putin.
Something to do, one guesses, with how cold it was.
With zero hesitation, Putin stood up, grasped his tan coat with both hands and draped it over the Chinese first lady’s delicate shoulders.
It was move that oozed smooth, though skirting dangerously close to flirtatious. (Cue jokes about Russian aggressions.)
Peng, faced with the awkward prospect of sitting through dinner beside her husband with another man’s coat around her shoulders, handled it quickly.
After five seconds -- long enough perhaps to show appreciation for the chivalry, short enough not to call attention to the awkwardness of it all -- she stood up, discreetly handed Putin’s coat to an attendant and slipped on another jacket.
China’s main state broadcaster, CCTV, was televising the dinner and showed the entire exchange, with commentators noting, “I just saw President Putin attentively placing a coat onto Peng Liyuan’s body.”
View Photo Gallery — Among the many exploits of Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, are captaining a minisub in the Gulf of Finland and using a motorized hang-glider to lead captive Siberian cranes to freedom. The stunts are part of the manly mystique Putin has worked hard to cultivate over the years. Here are a few of his many talents.
Unsurprisingly, the moment quickly went viral on Weibo and other Chinese social media.
"Our first lady is a charming one indeed," said one poster by the handle Li Shigong.
"The foreign hostile forces just cannot stand it, and must have its hands on it," joked another.
"All Obama and Xi can do is watch."
China’s censors leaped into action.
The country's authorities have been controlling, to the point of paranoia, all image aspects of APEC -- detaining activists, banning cars and shutting down factories in an attempt to clear smog (and when that failed, blocking pollution data about said smog).
Accordingly, the Putin-Peng video was quickly pulled from Sina Weibo and the Web site of Phoenix TV overnight, along some of the more saucy comments.
It's not the first time Putin has shown some token of affection for Peng Liyuan. Last year, he gave her a bouquet of flowers and a cheeky grin at a China-Russia summit. (Watch the sparks fly at end in this video of the exchange.)
China and Russia have been eager to showcase their increasingly close military and economic ties -- to the frustration of the United States. But Monday night was perhaps a little bit too close.
Liu Liu contributed to this report.