Namaste, Ni Hao! Sitharaman’s charm offensive signals improving India-China ties


Namaste, Ni Hao! It’s time for bonhomie and friendly gestures between India and China, who are trying to put the bitterness of the Doklam standoff behind. India’s Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to Nathu La in Sikkim and her informal interaction with the Chinese troops across the border has been hailed in China as a warming signal for better India-China relations.

A video clip showing Ms. Sitharaman teaching the meaning of ‘namaste’ to the People’s Liberation Army soldiers has gone viral with several Chinese media groups sharing it widely as a positive gesture from the Indian side. “Do you know what ‘Namaste’ means?,” Mrs Sitharaman is seen asking in the clip to which one Chinese soldier responds saying: “Namaste means nice to meet you” before greeting her with a “Ni hao” in Chinese. Soon after the exchange of greetings, Ms. Sitharaman tweeted saying, “Acknowledged a row of Chinese soldiers from across the fence who were taking pictures on my reaching Nathu La.” Nathu La border post is around 30 km from Doklam where the two countries were engaged in a prolonged 73-day standoff.

Speaking to The Global Times, Qian Feng, an expert at the Chinese Association for South Asian Studies, said, “It sent a goodwill signal towards mending bilateral ties and putting relations back on track toward normality.” Many analysts and social media users from both the countries have hailed the exchange as a goodwill gesture citing the need for rebuilding trust, especially at a time when there has been a lot of bad blood between the two countries following the Doklam standoff.

In an editorial in The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the CPC, welcomed Ms Sitharaman’s “friendly interactions with Chinese soldiers,” but at the same time termed her border inspection as an “aggressive posture” and cautioned New Delhi to exercise restraint.“New Delhi needs to exercise restraint. It can only strengthen military infrastructure on its own soil when and where international law permits. It should consider deepening strategic security communication with China, which can enhance mutual trust between China and India,” said the Global Times in an editorial entitled, ‘Sitharaman greeting sends warm signal’.

Sitharaman’s traditional Namaste greeting to the Chinese soldiers sent another signal to the public that might not erase the first impression but may at least balance things out,” Global Times wrote in an editorial titled.“This is a realistic and responsible attitude for the country and its people. Both before and after the Dokalam crisis, the Chinese government hopes for border peace with the broad support of the Chinese people. But Indian society’s understanding of their country’s border policy seems ambiguous and chaotic. Some Indians believe New Delhi will take tough measures to crush Beijing’s will,” the influential Chinese publication said.

The hawkish publication also cautioned India against forming alliances with US and Japan. “Indians must overcome the paranoia that suggests their country is strategically thwarted and threatened by Beijing. New Delhi also needs to give up its pursuit of Washington and Tokyo support to deploy as a bargaining chip against Beijing… Confrontation with China will directly limit its international strategic space.”



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