World leaders from Canada to Zimbabwe extended Lunar New Year greetings to China when the Year of the Rabbit hopped into full swing in late January, in what has become a regular act of diplomatic courtesy that only began fairly recently. It is therefore hard not to ignore the geopolitical undertones that appear to underline these well wishes, especially as many were extended by countries that either have deep ties with China or are seeking to deepen relations with Beijing. Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe wished prosperity for China, while his prime minister Dinesh Gunawardena called Beijing a “true trustworthy friend” of Colombo. Broke Sri Lanka owes billions to Chinese creditors and has been seeking Beijing’s support to help secure a bailout from the International Monetary Fund ( IMF ). Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa wished that the new year would offer the opportunity for his country to “solidify the strong bonds of friendship” with China. Last year, Beijing funded and built a new parliament building in the southern African nation, while Chinese investors sealed a deal to construct a US$2.8 billion battery metals industrial park. Other leaders who sent warm greetings to China included South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, and the president of the Gabonese Senate. The list also includes Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades, Mauritian President Prithvirajsing Roopun, and Kiribati’s Taneti Maamau. While Western government leaders and organisations sent out similar Lunar New Year messages, they appeared to be targeted at their own local Chinese communities or to ethnic Chinese worldwide. They include Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau , United States President Joe Biden , and IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva. It is unclear when the practice of foreign leaders sending Chinese festive greetings began, but anecdotal evidence suggests it started about 15 years ago, at a time when Chinese state media started making their global presence felt. Media personnel with access to foreign leaders would often ask these dignitaries to extend new year greetings to their Chinese viewers and readers back home. Why Vietnam is celebrating the Year of the Cat, not the Rabbit During celebrations organised by Chinese embassies overseas, foreign leaders in attendance would also deliver greetings which would then be widely circulated in the Chinese media. The message intended for Chinese viewers back home cannot be more clear: that China has risen and gained international stature. It helps that some of these greetings are spoken in Mandarin – to varying degrees of proficiency – as this further accentuates the pride among many Chinese that their nation’s official language is gaining global prominence. While creating warm fuzzy feelings in the hearts of one of the world’s most populous nations should not be discouraged, there is little doubt that the ongoing trend of sending these messages can be attributed to China’s growing importance as a global economic, political and diplomatic power. Otherwise, there is little or no explanation as to why such warm wishes are not extended to other countries with large populations and diasporas such as India, Russia, Indonesia , Mexico and the US. Can anyone imagine foreign leaders sending Christmas or Thanksgiving wishes en masse to the government and people of the US ? Many would even find it difficult to identify the new year or the most important festivals in say India or Russia . It is unquestionably a credit to China and Chinese communities worldwide that its most important festival has attained global recognition and generated warm wishes. While previously China may have had to and will continue to “solicit” these greetings, my guess is that these wishes will be forthcoming in the years to come even without solicitation. Happy year of the rabbit, with uniquely Chinese characteristics.