He said what? China's Xi Jinping makes 'House of Cards' joke

China reacts to President Xi's U.S. speech
China reacts to President Xi's U.S. speech

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    China reacts to President Xi's U.S. speech

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China reacts to President Xi's U.S. speech 01:32

Story highlights

  • Xi makes "House of Cards" reference when talking about graft clampdown
  • China's President says country will take action on cybercrime

Hong Kong (CNN)Xi Jinping did something unusual, almost unheard of, for a Chinese President: He cracked a joke. In public.

Well, sort of.
    Talking about his three-year crackdown on corruption in a speech during his visit to the United States Tuesday, XI insisted it was aimed squarely at stamping out graft and not purging political rivals.
    This is not, he said, with a smile a "House of Cards" -- a reference to the Netflix blockbuster that charts the intrigue and treachery of Kevin Spacey's power hungry politico Francis Underwood.
    The audience in Seattle tittered and applauded. A reference to popular culture showing a leader in touch with America? Especially so after an earlier reference to the movie "Sleepless in Seattle."
    xi jinping sot china progress_00000000.jpg
    xi jinping sot china progress_00000000

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    But there's a rather delicious irony here.
    Xi had devoted a key part of his speech to cybercrime and reassured his audience that Beijing had a special focus on protecting intellectual property rights (IPR) from piracy.
    "House of Cards" is one of the most illegally downloaded shows in China. According to piracy tracking watchdog Excipio, in the first 24 hours after season three of the show was released, it was downloaded illegally 682,000 times worldwide. And the main culprit? You guessed it, China.
    The Netflix epic is available legally in China through SohuTV, which bought the rights to the show. It's enormously popular.
    As our Beijing producer Steven Jiang, a self-confessed addict of the show, wrote last year, it's hardly flattering about China or Chinese politics but that's not holding back its popularity in China.
    And with a shout-out like that, it's likely it will only become more popular.