Amid Tensions, China Uses Soft Power With Tagore & Jackie Chan
While tensions along LAC have escalated, a simultaneous soft power outreach by the Chinese ambassador is underway.
On 19 May, The Chinese Foreign Ministry, in a statement, accused India of “obstructing normal patrols and operations of Chinese border troops” in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. The Chinese media simultaneously alleged that India has built fortifications along the border to obstruct Chinese border patrolling.
On the same day, Sun Weidong, Chinese Ambassador to India, tweeted a video of actor Jackie Chan on his official handle.
“We are all facing a very difficult time right now. We should stay positive,” says Chan in the video, addressing his message to Indians.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the beloved action star could be referring to simmering tension between Indian and Chinese troops along the LAC in Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim.
Chan’s video, however, is simply a 37-second long message wishing Indians all the best in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Indian Army and PLA soldiers face-off along Pangong Tso, Galwan Nalah and Demchok sectors, Weidong’s outreach efforts have invoked actor Irrfan Khan, Rabindranath Tagore, higher education opportunities and the need for cooperation in battling coronavirus.
On 29 April, the ambassador condoled the death of actor Irrfan Khan. Describing him as “a well-know and beloved Indian actor in China,” Weidong wrote he was saddened to hear about the actor’s passing.
On 11 May, he retweeted a video posted by Chinese national English daily Global Times. The post celebrates India-China cultural ties through Rabindranath Tagore’s birth anniversary. Tagore had visited China twice, in 1924 and 1928.
Just two days prior, on 9 May, Indian and Chinese troops were engaged in a fistfight on Saturday at Naku La in north Sikkim, which resulted in injuries to several soldiers on both sides.
The skirmish was marked by a young Indian Army lieutenant punching a Chinese PLA major on his nose, at Muguthang, sending blood oozing from his nose. Some felt the action could provoke a bigger spat.
While tensions continued to brew along Ladakh and Sikkim, a separate theatre of action – the coronavirus pandemic – one again reared its head.
Weidong tweeted an interview he gave to a television channel where he stressed on the enhanced cooperation between the two countries since the outbreak of the pandemic. He also denied allegations of faulty PPE kits supplied to India.
Three days later, on 17 May, the Chinese ambassador, commemorating 70 years of Indo-Chinese diplomatic ties, once again stressed on the need for increased cooperation between the two nuclear powers.
“On 70th anniversary of our diplomatic ties, we must win this battle against #COVID19 together & build a community with a shared future for mankind,” the tweet said.
“Jia You Yindu! Come on India!”, read Weidong’s 19 May tweet featuring a video of action star Jackie Chan. The tweet notched up over 1,200 likes.
Many Indian Twitter users, however, were quick to comment on the apparent duality of Chinese engagement with India.
Scores of comments echoed concerns of the escalating standoff between Indian and PLA soldiers.
One such user, Kuldeep Singh commented on the tweet, “One side they are showing power on LAC borders and on other side they showed friendship and support.”
In an effort to highlight cooperation between the two countries, Weidong’s tweet on 21 May drew attention to sharing of data on COVID-19 related resources.
On the same day, the Ministry of External Affairs also told China that “peace and tranquillity in border areas” is an “essential prerequisite” to developing bilateral relations as it rejected Beijing’s claim that Indian troops trespassed into Chinese territory.
With literature, art and cinema done, another tweet on the same day focussed on India and China’s shared love for tea.
“Tea culture bonded our two ancient civilisations China & #India together. Let’s taste a cup of tea-chai and promote tea culture together at this #InternationalTeaDay.”
In what appears to be among the most direct soft power outreach, on 22 May, Weidong shared a video featuring Chinese nationals speaking in Hindi.
Titled, “Blessings from Chinese students and scholars who used to study in India,” the video features several Chinese nationals wishing for good health amidst the pandemic. The tweet garnered 251 comments and 930 likes.
While tensions have escalated steadily since the last week of April, aided in part by People’s Liberation Army’s aggressive posturing, this simultaneous soft power outreach on social media by the Chinese ambassador to India stands out in sharp contrast.
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