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China's social media hails Nirmala Sitharaman's 'namaste' as its foreign ministry downplays gesture

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's spontaneous 'namaste' greeting to Chinese soldiers on her maiden visit to the Nathu La border post in Sikkim has struck a chord with China's experts and internet users, who largely welcomed the move.

During her visit, Sitharaman taught the Chinese soldiers the meaning of  ‘namaste’ and also the procedure to do it. The moment was captured and shared by the defence minister on Twitter. She interacted with the army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police officials.

Chinese social media

Even as the Chinese foreign ministry tried to avoid giving Sitharaman's interaction much acknowledgment, her moment with the People's Liberation Army troops sparked positive response among the Chinese netizens.

According to The Times of India, China-based blogger Zhui Zhui posted, “I am happy to see this peaceful scene."

In the two stills taken from a video snippet posted by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, she is seen interacting with the Chinese soldiers at the border at Nathu-la in Sikkim on Saturday. PTI Photo/ Twitter @nsitharaman (PTI10_8_2017_000201B) *** Local Caption ***

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman interacts with the Chinese soldiers at Nathu La in Sikkim. PTI

On Sina Weibo, the Chinese microblogging site, a user called Tu Yueyue wrote, "The Indian woman defence minister directly faced the tough border problem. Such a brave woman."

A source was quoted in the report saying that the praises were of significance because there is no woman in the senior ranks of the Communist Party and government in China.

On Monday, China had said the Nathu La post was the "best witness" to the UK-China treaty of 1890.

"The Sikkim sector of the China-India boundary has been delimited by the historical treaty of 1890, and the Nathu La has been the best witness testifying to this fact", Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a media briefing while reacting to a question on Sitharaman's visit.

"The Chinese side is willing to jointly uphold peace and tranquillity in the border areas with the Indian side on the basis of observing historical treaties and the relevant agreements and accords between the two sides", Hua said.

Beijing often referred to the 1890 Britain-China treaty during the Doka La standoff stating that it has defined the Sikkim section of the boundary with Tibet, therefore the border in that area has been settled.

Chinese media

While State-run English news channel CGTN carried snippets of her video, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post carried the story saying: "India's defence minister builds bridges with Chinese troops".

"The minister experienced an unexpected wave of goodwill from Chinese soldiers when she visited troops stationed on the frontier between the countries", South China Morning Post reported.

Sitharaman's interaction also impressed Chinese commentators.

"The greeting sent a goodwill signal towards mending bilateral ties and putting relations back on track toward normality", Qian Feng, an expert at the Chinese Association for South Asian Studies, told the State-run Global Times which carried a separate story on Sitharaman's Sikkim visit with a caption "Indian Minister waves at PLA".

The Indian government should show more determination for improving ties as Prime Minister Narendra Modi "enjoys advantages towards achieving that goal", Qian was quoted as saying in the report.

Of the 3,488-km-long India-China border from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, a 220-km section falls in Sikkim. The two sides so far held 19 rounds of talks at the level of Special Representatives to resolve the dispute.

Meanwhile, Global Times — which has a reputation for criticising India — also carried an editorial.

In the piece called "India must overcome security paranoia", it said that Sitharaman inspected a newly-constructed airport during the visit, the nearest to China's border, which will be put into use in November. "But her aggressive gesture seems to have been diluted by her friendly interactions with Chinese soldiers in Nathula," it said, in a direct reference to the 'namaste' gesture.

It added: "China is not willing to see that ties with India consume too much energy and India is not a major focus for China's strategic ambition. Maintaining Sino-Indian friendship is a strategic instinct and a rational choice for China."

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Oct 10, 2017 12:08 PM

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