Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter-like Chinese Weibo account sputtered to life after a hiatus with his birthday wishes to President Xi Jinping, who turned 63 on Wednesday.
Modi wished Xi a long life and good health, giving some of his 170,000 followers on the microblog something to share and talk about.
Xi’s response to the warm greeting wasn’t immediately known.
Nor could it be confirmed whether following the birthday wishes, Xi had ordered his diplomats to lay out a red carpet for India to nimbly walk on to the other side of the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s (NSG) door at the Seoul plenary meeting a week later.
The greeting came against the backdrop of strains between the two countries over India’s bid to gain entry to the NSG. China, apparently acting at the behest of its “all weather ally” has strongly opposed India’s candidature.
But one thing was sure - the Weibo post got India and Modi considerable goodwill in China.
Within a few hours, Modi’s post had been shared more than 5,100 times and attracted 7,200 “likes” – and the numbers were increasing.
The Weibo platforms in China have hundreds of millions of subscribers and celebrities count their followers in tens of millions. Twitter has been blocked under China’s tough censorship laws since 2009.
By contrast, Modi’s impact on Weibo is tiny but Chinese users appreciate the fact that he has at least tried to reach out to millions in their language.
The fact that Modi remembered to wish Xi this year – unlike last year – was commented on by some users. Modi though did remember to wish Premier Li Keqiang on his birthday on July 1 last year.
Some Weibo users said it was a “nice, diplomatic gesture” on Modi’s part to wish Xi. One user said Modi makes it a point to wish world leaders and corporate bigwigs like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerbeg on their birthdays.
Last year, Modi had thanked Xi for greeting him on his 65th birthday in September. “I thank President Xi Jinping for his kind wishes on my birthday. I warmly recall my meetings with him and look forward to working with him to further strengthen India-China ties,” Modi had then written on Weibo.
Modi has made some 66 posts on his Weibo account since opening it in the run-up to his visit to china in May last year.
By far, his most popular post has been his “selfie” with Premier Li at the sprawling Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It featured a smiling Modi and Li.
Till Wednesday, the “selfie” – which some termed as the most powerful one in the world at the time – had been reposted more than 60,000 times and more than 100,000 had liked it. More than 2,400 people have commented on it so far.
Modi’s opening Weibo post in May 2015 did some pinch hitting too. “Hello China, I’m looking forward to interacting with Chinese friends through Weibo” has got some 10,000 reposts and comments.
One can only imagine the response from China’s Weibo users if Modi had got Xi’s birthday wrong, like he did with that of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in February.
China would have probably, and maybe gladly, let its Great Fire Wall down for the message to be delivered to India.