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The India-China Media War

It is necessary to clearly understand the critical difference between the Indian media and the Chinese media. The freedom and independence of the Indian media is enshrined in the constitution under freedom of thought and expression. The Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi once made the cardinal mistake of trying to muzzle the media and paid dearly. Freedom of the media is very important, both for the people and the government, became it is the only avenue to get information relatively unadulterated, though bias does creep in. Apart from open briefings and background briefing by the government, journalists ferret out information through their sources (or friends) in the government which sometimes leads to inaccurate reporting. But this is part of professional hazard. Inaccuracies can be minimised if the source gives information openly on issues of national interests. Otherwise there is misreporting.

Many Indian political parties have their mouthpieces or organs, but scant importance is paid to them by the general public. These publications are generally meant for party members.

In China it is quite the opposite. Both the State and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) constitutions make it abundantly clear that the country’s media is strictly controlled. Those who violate the red line are strictly dealt with. There have been such examples in recent years. During the Cultural Revolution Mao Zedong and the infamous Gang of Four (GoF) used the media to create political havoc in the country. Following the 1989 Tian An Men Square Students’ uprising, the media that went too liberal and criticised the CCP and the

government were thoroughly cleansed and revamped. One was Shanghai’s highly respected “Liberation Daily”. China controlled newspapers in Hong Kong, the “Ta Kung Pao” and the “Wen Wei Po”, also went through similar revamps, and erring journalists dismissed.

Newspapers like the People’s Daily, the Guangming Daily, the China Youth Daily are often used by senior leaders in factional fights and power struggle. So is the military newspaper, the Liberation Army Daily (LAD), but this is used more by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to push their own agenda. But where foreign policy is concerned there is only one view which comes from the CCP and the government. The English Language China Daily is more oriented towards the diplomatic community in Beijing and foreigners. Similarly, the Chinese news agency Xinhua is used in this way. The government and the Foreign Ministry have an overall control on these two media outlets.

The think tanks are strictly controlled by the CCP, the Foreign Ministry, the PLA and the state intelligence. All scholars have to be security cleared and only senior members have access to classified information. Think tank scholars play a very important role.

Senior scholars and academics play a very important role of conveying at times the CCP and government’s thinking, while leaving an avenue for the government to deny that. For example, a veteran scholar of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the government’s premier think tank, while visiting Nepal, stated in an interview that the Chinese government knew India planned to “Sikkimise” Nepal, and China would not stand by silently.

While the Chinese officially will not admit it openly, it is widely known that selected journalists posted abroad play the role of intelligence agents. They normally do not indulge in offensive intelligence but use their contacts in the host country for opinion shaping, collecting intelligence, and spotting prospective assets.

Long ago, a Chinese scholar visiting India for the first time, told this writer that he was shocked by the way Indian leaders, including the prime Minister, were attacked by the media. In China, he said, such a journalist would be charged with anti-state activities and jailed while the newspaper closed down.

This is the difference between the media in the two countries. China has its own political systems and laws and we should not have no quarrel with that. But where the Chinese media, especially the newspapers like the People’s Daily, the China Daily and the Xinhua among others, say something, it is bound to be taken as an official view or standpoint.

Recently, hyped-up reports in sections of the Indian media were made for reasons which are briefly discussed below. Some of these reports about Chinese incursions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) have been exaggerated and incorrect. For example, a report saying two soldiers of the Indian border force, the ITBP, were injured in firing by Chinese troops on the Sikkim-Tibet border was not a fact. But someone had given wrong information on purpose, to the concerned reporter. The same was the case with a report saying Indian insurgents were being trained in China. This kind of misinformation appears because of lack of clear briefings from the relevant authorities in India. Interested foreign agencies can take advantage of such a situation to plant misinformation, especially when the media here is thirsty for information on a subject of high importance to India’s security and territorial integrity.

Two landmark agreements signed between India and China, the 1993 Peace and Tranquillity (P&T) Treaty, and the 1996 Confidence Building Measures (CBM) agreements to ensure stability along the borders, have generally held good. There has been no firing since, and the eyeball to eyeball situation between soldiers of these two sides has been resolved. Having said that, China has violated the CBM agreement to an extent periodically.

It must be stated that the India-China border issue will have to be resolved peacefully and through talks. In 2005, India and China signed an agreement on modalities for resolving the boundary issue. Chinese leaders showed reluctance to accept one of the clauses, the one saying that settled population will not be disturbed in adjustment of a give and take of territories along the borders. Some adjustments and accommodation on strips along the borders is critical to resolving the border issue. Both sides agree on that, but both have their strategic calculations. Therefore, the process is difficult and extended.

There is a pertinent question to ask the Chinese. Why, after signing the agreement on modalities to resolve the boundary dispute, are they going back on it on a critical humanitarian point which could result in people being forced to change their nationality and citizenship against their Will? After all, the agreement was arrived at with due considerations from both sides, and signed under the supervision of Premier Wen Jiabao. Obviously, strong forces in China must have done a rethinking, and these would be the ultra-nationalist forces within the Chinese establishment currently on a high with the rise in China’s economic, political and military power.

China has raised claims on Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh on various grounds, and also occupies Aksai Chin. Its recent screaming objection to the Dalai Lama’s proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh in November is really an issue of legalising Tawang and Arunachal as a sovereign territory of India, which the Dalai Lama did during his last visit to the state. Whatever the Chinese say about the Dalai Lama, he still remains a Chinese citizen and the prime leader of the Tibetans. He holds, in a manner of saying, Tibet’s history in his palm. This is the truth, and stuck in the throats of the Chinese mandarins.

What has really riled the Indian media is not only the border incursions, but the cumulative effect of Chinese actions and media comments (now proved official policy) of trying to trip India at every stage.

For decades, the Chinese media has been habituated to deride and insult India as a state policy. Even very recently, Pt. Nehru’s character has been assassinated, though Nehru bent over backwords to support China in its initial stages as People’s Republic of China.

In the past decade, to take the new period of improved India-China relations, most Chinese actions were aimed at cutting India down to size. It played the devilish game to make Pakistan a stand alone nuclear power specifically calliberated to counter India. After the May 1998 nuclear test by India followed by Pakistan, China embarked on an international campaign to force India to roll back its nuclear programme. It did everything possible to stop the India-US nuclear deal and the Nuclear Supplier Groups (NSG) waiver allowing India to enter into civilian nuclear agreements with other NSG countries. India’s main objective was to ensure energy security, a critical input in today’s world for a clean environment and development. The Chinese actions were aimed at India’s belly, to sabotage India’s development. Beijing is now gearing up to make another effort to attack India’s nuclear programme in the international force, with the kind assistance of American friends like Henry Kissenger, (who has substantial interests in China) and the Democrat anti-India non-proliferation lobby.

What is most galling is that China stridently project itself a responsible player in the international community, when it is actually the mother of all proliferators. Pakistan provided Libya with nuclear weapons documents that Libya surrendered to the USA, which had clear Chinese markings. Even today, there is evidence to indicate that China continues to help Pakistan in its plutonium nuclear weapons programme.

China is supposed to be a partner of the international efforts to counter terrorism. But where Pakistani jehadis or terrorists attacking India is concerned, China is clearly giving them support. Otherwise, why is China blocking the UN efforts to declare LeT mentor Hafiz Sayeed and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) head Masood Azar as terrorist? It is, therefore, legitimate to question whether China is waging an asymmetrical war against India, using terrorists?

When the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal, Qiu Guohang declares in Kathmandu (Sept. 05, 2009) that the government of China will “readily provide arms support, financial support and diplomatic support if Nepal faced any threat to its territorial integrity”, there is no prize for guessing which country is the target. It is India, and Ambassador Qiu’s predecessor and other visiting Chinese dignitaries to Nepal since November 2008 have made similar statements. It is no secret in Kathmandu that the Chinese have been encouraging Nepal to raise the territorial issue with India, promising backing.

The report about China training Indian insurgents is not correct, and the Indian media should be careful about reporting without checking facts very thoroughly. But it is also a fact that leaders of Indian insurgent groups like the ULFA and the NSCN (I/M) maintain connection with China and travel to China.

China tricked India into believing that it had come around to recognize Sikkim as a sovereign territory of India. This was done at the highest level on both sides. But China reneged on its official words. The Indian media and the people are naturally concerned. Their expressions basically are expressions of concern and frustration.

The Indian political, security and military leadership have come forward with a very considered position recently, and read together they are sagacious and tempered. Do not raise the blood pressure which can burst a blood vessel. Chinese border incursions have not increased over last year’s. And India in 2009 is not India of 1962. Arunachal Pradesh is part and parcel of India and Chinese claims and protests against Indian leaders visiting the state are dismissed as something that had no relevance and not acceptable, and not debatable.

India shares a 4000 km border with China, though China claims it is 2000 kms. The Chinese position negates India’s claims and sovereign territory.

But this issue is that neither country can go into a border war. Chinese incursions remain at 2008 level in 2009, but the fact remains there have been a large number of incursions in 2008, as much as over 230.

The border issue must be resolved politically, but the Indian media must also engage in credible reporting and not go overboard to ignite emotions. The truth should be told, but verification is a must. Do not provoke a situation and do not fall prey to Chinese propaganda. What is necessary is to report factually the Chinese official media. That would be enough.

(The writer,Mr Bhaskar Roy,is an eminent analyst on Chinese affairs, based in New Delhi.

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