In an interview to Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS earlier this month, Cena sparked controversy while promoting the ninth installment of the Fast & Furious franchise when he said, “Taiwan is the first country to watch Fast and Furious 9.”
Beijing claims the self-governing island as part of its territory and has threatened to annex it — by force, if necessary. Even though Taiwan has its own government, democratic elections and army, most governments around the world don’t recognize it as a country.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
On Tuesday, Cena, 44, posted a video message that he recorded in Mandarin on Chinese social network Weibo, in which he said that he had done many interviews for Fast & Furious 9 and during one interview, he “made a mistake.”
“I must say right now, it’s very, very, very, very, very, very important,” Cena said. “I love and respect China and Chinese people. I’m very, very sorry for my mistake.”
He did not elaborate on what exactly he was apologizing for and did not directly mention Taiwan.
Cena has a considerable presence on Weibo, with more than 600,000 followers. He has been learning Mandarin for several years, according to media reports.
Some Weibo users were critical of Cena's apology and called it insincere or lacking conviction. One wrote: "It's the western political correctness. he wants Chinese people to forgive him but he also doesn't want to offend idiot Taiwan and the West."
However, some were more forgiving. "Some of the comments here are really too aggressive," one said. "I think we should sit down and chat about it in a less intense way. Foreigners don't necessarily know China's politics, just like we don't necessarily know their politics."
China is the world’s second-largest film market.
The latest installment in Universal's franchise kicked off with a massive $162 million in eight markets, including China, Korea and Hong Kong. The ticket sales easily mark the best start for a Hollywood blockbuster since Covid-19 hit.
Universal is owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.
China views Taiwan as an illegitimate breakaway province. When the civil war in China between the Communists and the Nationalists ended in 1949, with the former triumphant, the latter set up a rival government in Taipei.
Earlier this year, China increased its military activity near the island in response to what it calls "secessionist forces" and "collusion" between Taipei and Washington.
The Chinese Communist Party has not ruled out the use of force to bring the island under Beijing's control.
Reuters contributed to this report.