The former WWE wrestler and Fast & Furious actor made the remarks during an interview with a Taiwanese television network. His initial comments infuriated Chinese fans – and is follow up apology equally infuriated western fans.
Cena was promoting the upcoming ‘Fast & Furious 9’ movie in Taiwan when he called it a ‘country’.
He told a broadcaster in Mandarin: “Taiwan is the first country that can watch ‘F9.’”
China’s Government regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, and has previously threatened to reunite the island with the mainland by force.
Taiwan is also at the centre of tensions between Beijing and Western powers in the South China Sea, with Australia and the US vowing to protect the island against Chinese aggression.
Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, told PBS: “I think Beijing has been preparing for war against Taiwan, and that is what we have been seeing. They are preparing for it.
“If you look at the number of sorties, it’s around 2,900 times last year. So, the threat has been increasing.”
READ MORE: Wuhan lab fears: US accuses China of not being fully ‘transparent’
Chinese social media users on Weibo refused to accept Cena’s apology, with one saying the wrestler must say “Taiwan is part of China”.
But Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs tweeted: “John Cena is owned by the Chinese Communist Party.”
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton also called the apology “pathetic”.
CM Punk, also a former WWE wrestler and UFC fighter, poked fun at his TV rival by updating his Twitter bio to “Taiwan is a country”.
Fast and Furious 9, directed by Taiwanese-born Justin Lin, has grossed nearly $137 million (£100 million) at the Chinese box office since it debuted last week.
China is a large market for the entertainment industry, with Hollywood movies often undergoing extensive censorship “to avoid antagonising Chinese officials”, according to a report from PEN America.