Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earned unusual praise from Chinese netizens Wednesday — for the quality of his calligraphy, rather than his diplomacy.
Beijing and Tokyo are at loggerheads over disputed islands and wartime history, and Abe has raised hackles with his criticism of his neighbor's assertiveness in the South China Sea.
But the Japanese leader was lauded after he purportedly left a hand-written note in Chinese thanking a cleaner at the hotel he stayed in for the G20 summit in Hangzhou last week.
It gave Abe's name, title and the date, adding: "Thanks."
It was posted on China's Twitter-like Weibo social media service last week by a journalist who founded what is said to be Japan's largest Chinese-language news website, and had been reposted more than 700 times by Wednesday.
"His characters are good-looking," wrote one poster.
Another appreciated his attention to detail. "This small gesture shows the nation's breeding," the person wrote.
A spokesman at Abe's office could not confirm the authenticity of the note, but said that he had stayed at the Sheraton Grand hotel, on whose notepaper it was written.
The reaction is a contrast to how Abe is often portrayed by Chinese media and online, where an army of posters regularly comment in praise of Beijing's Communist government.
Abe has regularly been blasted by state-run Chinese media for his comments on Japan's wartime history and its invasion of China, publicly questioning claims that the Japanese military systematically compelled women to become sex workers.
In 2013 he visited Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors the country's war dead — including several high-level officials executed for war crimes after World War II.
The two countries are locked in a long-running dispute over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, and Abe has vocally criticised China for rejecting a July ruling by an international tribunal invalidating its extensive claims to the South China Sea.
But one act of penmanship may have aided his standing.
"Does he know that he is nearly scolded to death by Chinese people?" wrote one poster, adding "this behavior can by no means draw any verbal abuse."