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The Role of the Media in India-China Relations

The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of Singapore had organized on July 2 and 3, 2010, an India-China Dialogue on “the Role of the Media in India-China Relations”.

2. An explanatory note of the School available on its web site says: “Despite the massive growth of bilateral trade between China and India, tensions over territorial and political issues have also grown, particularly in the last year. While some sources of stress are real, their effects are mediated and often inflamed by media depictions and perceptions of these tensions. Moreover, circumstances may also arise where the media tend to downplay more positive aspects of the relationship. In a situation where the Chinese and Indians have limited knowledge of each other and the interactions are dominated by strategic and business concerns, the media can play a constructive role in promoting mutual understanding among the general public. This first colloquium in the India-China Dialogue series seeks to answer some of these questions about the role of the media in India-China relations. It brings together representatives from the media and other areas to discuss pertinent issues and seeks alternatives to these path-dependent approaches. The speakers will discuss different aspects of image production and reception of these two large and varied nations, the different areas of competition and convergence as covered by the media, and the role of media in geo-politics, cultural relations, diplomacy, etc. Are the media in India and China really responsible for creating misperceptions and an adversarial image of each other? Are journalists in the two countries trained and qualified to cover the other country? What are the differences between the Indian media’s coverage of China and the Chinese media’s reporting on India? Are there alternative avenues for presenting information to the general public”.

3. This subject assumed importance last year following an escalation of mutual demonisation in the print, electronic and online media of the two countries. In the case of India, the escalation was more pronounced in the electronic and online media than in the print media. In China, the escalation was more marked in the print and online media than in the electronic media. China has not yet seen the kind of explosive growth in 24-hour private news channels that India has and it has no privately-run indigenous news channels. In India, the problem of uncontrolled demonisation of China was seen largely in the 24-hour news channels, which merrily lapped up anything critical of China said or written by anybody and organized discussions which tended to be over-dramatic and occasionally even hysterical.

4.In China, the demonisation of India was largely seen in the Chinese language print media and in the thousands of blogs which have come up in the country following the phenomenal growth of the Internet. Most of the blog contents was in the Chinese language. Since there are very few Chinese language experts in India, the majority of the negative articles and postings about India did not get translated and circulated. Only some were. If more of them had been translated and disseminated to Indian readers, the alarm caused in India would have been more.

5. In India, what appeared to be unbridled criticism of China was largely in the English media. The Indian language media, which has more readership and viewership than the English media, did not show the same interest in China and was not as negative about China as was the English media.

6. The analysis of these demonizing articles in the two countries tended to get distorted due to the following reasons:

The lack of transparency about the Chinese media and the widespread perception in India that the Chinese media is still largely owned and/or controlled by the Chinese Government and the Communist Party of China. As a result, anything critical of India appearing in the Chinese media was viewed by large sections of the Indian public as representing the views of the Chinese Government and party. The lack of adequate knowledge in China about the free press that India has. Barring some radio stations and TV channels run by the Government, there is hardly any government owned or controlled media in India. Large sections of the Chinese public opinion tend to think that the entire Indian media is owned and/or controlled by the Government and the political party in power as is the case in China. These sections tended to assume that whatever was carried by the Indian media had the approval of the Government. Thus we had a situation in which large sections of the Chinese public assumed that the negative coverage of China in the Indian media was at the instance of the Government, which was not a fact. Large sections of the Indian public assumed that the negative coverage of India in the Chinese media was instigated by the Government and party, which may have been or may not have been a fact. Many claim that the media landscape in China has changed and that everything that appears in the media does not necessarily represent the views of the Government and party. The Indian public, except those belonging to the leftist parties, is not prepared to accept this. Many in India believe that the Internet in China is closely controlled by the Government and that the negative contents of the blogs have been allowed to appear by the Government. Otherwise, they would have been erased. 7. The consequent distortions in the analysis of the reports and writings in the media of the two countries almost led to a war of words between analysts, journalists and TV anchors of the two countries. Fortunately, the two Governments had a better understanding of the state of affairs and put a stop to this self-feeding rhetoric. The campaign of mutual demonisation has declined. But there is still a lot of criticism of each other, which is more due to the low level of trust between the civil societies of the two countries due to historical reasons than due to any malign reasons.

8. This may please be read in continuation of the following two articles written by Mr. D. S. Rajan, Director, Chennai Centre For China Studies:

(a). The Tricky Business of Watching Chinese Media, dated October 12, 2009.

(b). China: Nationalistic Blogs Raise New Issues Concerning Sino-Indian Border, dated December 23, 2009.

9. These articles, which are available at the web site of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, are annexed below for easy reference.

(The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail


The Tricky Business of Watching Chinese Media D.S.Rajan, C3S Paper No.385 dated October 12, 2009

For analysts of Chinese affairs abroad, the printed, online, radio and TV media in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), in Chinese, English and other languages, remain a major source of information. The conventional wisdom is that virtually the entire media are functioning under the guidance of either the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or the government led by it; the CCP Central Committee’s Publicity Department plays a pivotal role in this regard. As such, outside the PRC, the Chinese media are invariably being seen as reflecting the views of the CCP and the government.

It cannot be denied however that instances of very limited freedom, being enjoyed occasionally by the Chinese press are increasingly coming to notice. – Journals like ‘Cai Jing’, ‘Nanyang Zhoumo, Yan Huang Chun Qiu and scores of local newspapers, websites and blogs, are critical of the authorities sometimes on issues like corruption, nepotism, problems of peasants etc. Also, ideologically, Beijing is permitting neo-liberal, neo-left and even some ultra-Maoist scholars to express their views. In doing so, its motives seem to be using the available different viewpoints as possible inputs to ultimate policy making. As the party theoretical organ ‘Qiu Shi’ puts it, while ‘hundred flowers blossom’, the media must not cross the rubicon, by expressing any opinion challenging the rule of the communist party or affecting the unity and integrity of the country. A known example of ‘crossing the limit’ had been the journal ‘Strategy and Management’ which published (September 2004) an excessively independent article on North Korea. In response, the authorities closed down the journal (“Reporters without Borders”, 1 June 2005).

This writer started studying Chinese media more than four decades back and till today, have come across several reports, which are more concealing than revealing; I however do not mean that they reflect a general trend and feel that only on selected occasions such a phenomenon is being seen. Not surprisingly, China analysts world over per force are examining such dispatches by reading between the lines, examining the timing of publications, studying the significance of what has not been said and comparing the contents with earlier ones, all in an effort to draw certain meaningful conclusions, if possible. There is however a risk involved in following such techniques, as the likelihood of such analysts going wrong would always exist. On the other hand, Chinese experts at home, directly exposed to the system, are better equipped to understand the hidden meaning if any of Chinese media views. They may however prefer not to come out openly with their feelings out of fear of punishment by the authorities.

The following are case studies undertaken by me, aimed at examining the transparency or otherwise of Chinese media dispatches:

1) Shanghai Daily Wen Huibao (10 November 1965) carried an article entitled, “Criticism of Historical Drama- Hai Rui Dismissed from Office”, written by Yao Wenyuan, a member of the now disgraced ‘gang of four’. Not many were immediately aware of political implications of the article; the assessment that the drama was criticized as it made an allegorical attack on Chairman Mao for his dismissal of Defence Minister Peng Dehuai, and that the article gave a signal towards launch of cultural revolution, could come only subsequently. It is obvious that the article could not say certain things openly, as what was involved is a struggle for political power. 2) China Daily (1 November 2004) published an Op-Ed captioned, “US Strategy to be Blamed”, by Qian Qichen, considered Czar of Chinese foreign policy, right on the eve of US polling in which President Bush contested for second time. It was notable for its strident anti- US tone and expression of fears on a US encirclement of China. To the world’s dismay, the China Daily disowned the article next day and a PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson denied that Qian wrote any such article. It was natural that speculations then arose on leadership differences in Beijing on China’s US policy, but observers remain puzzled over the episode; the real reason still looks mysterious. How China finally played the issue diplomatically with the US is another matter. 3) A sharply worded comment in People’s Daily (1 September 2008), signaling China’s opposition to India’s getting waiver in the scheduled Vienna meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), said that the Indo-US nuclear deal is a major blow to India’s non-proliferation image. The article timed close to the voting at Vienna, coupled with China’s reported moves there to join the like minded countries that had reservations on India getting the waiver, gave an impression that Beijing will vote against India’s case at the NSG. What happened finally was China’s abstention from the voting; China’s foreign minister Yang Jiechi stated that his nation did not try to block anything in Vienna and played a constructive role (Reuters, 2 October 2008). In such circumstances, how to interpret the opinions of the People’s Daily, becomes a key question. A probable reason could be that they could be representative of Chinese thinking based on principles, whereas at diplomatic levels, China felt the necessity to select a practical and safe option; regardless of such explanation, for the public opinion outside China, the Chinese stand on the issue remains puzzling. 4) What was the meaning of the Chinese media outbursts against India’s dispatch of additional troops to Arunachal Pradesh, noticed in the run up to the 13th India-China round of Special Representatives talks on the border issue (7-8 August 2009)? The Global Times (11 June 2009) described the troops dispatch as India’s “unwise military moves” and asked whether India can afford the consequences of a ‘potential confrontation’ with China. The People’s Daily’s comment (19 June 2009) on the same subject captioned ‘ a veiled threat or a good neighbor’, alleged that India seemed to be conspiring to create a picture of an immediate war with China. These two items, kept for the comments of readers for a long time, received substantial number of responses, most of them critical of India. Questions arise – what was the purpose behind the talk of ‘confrontation or war’ with India in the two articles? Was it meant to apply pressure on India during the border talks? The Chinese official comments have on the other hand been positive. Zhang Yan, the Chinese Ambassador to India has described the visit of the PRC Special Representative to India as successful and that ‘in-depth’ talks on the border issue could be held between the two sides (The Hindu, 12 October 2009). The remarks earlier (4 August 2009) of the PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson were also positive, though he made a mention about the ‘illegal’ McMahon line. Coming out clear is the apparent dichotomy between the treatments of the media and the government establishments in China on the border issue. The question as to how to interpret the same, continues to be valid. 5) An article in a Chinese website (8 August 2009), published at the time of Sino-Indian border talks, suggested that China should break up the Indian Union. It was reproduced around the same time by more than 20 websites/blogs in China. After protests from India, the concerned Chinese website subsequently inserted the name of an individual who wrote the article, along with a disclaimer that the writer did not represent its views; the website also claimed it has no connections with the government. The same was published in the website of Chennai Centre for China Studies (CCCS), India, which originally reported the Chinese website article. Also, in response to an Op-Ed carried by the Hindu Newspaper, Chennai, alleging factual inaccuracies in the CCCS article, a letter to the Editor was sent to the Hindu pointing out that the CCCS report did not connect the Chinese website with the PRC government and that in particular, it did not make any reference to the China Institute of International and Strategic Studies, a military think tank. The Hindu did not publish the rejoinder.

This writer holds his view that nothing can be printed or published in China without the knowledge of the Party/Government there and that any failure on the part of the authorities in taking notice of media contents including in web posts, is unthinkable. Can any newspaper, website or blog in China get away from the clutches of the authorities if they challenge the authority of the CCP or question the unity and integrity of the country? The answer is a clear ‘No’. I have seen arguments coming from China that the article in question had been appearing in Chinese blogs since 2006. I ask following questions – what is the explanation for the article (only blog for the Chinese) continuing to appear, as late as August 2009, simultaneously in a number of web posts? How the government, which has introduced tough regulations stipulating registration of all websites/blogs with it, did not notice such posts, under circulation for about three years already, challenging the declared policy of China towards India? What action was taken by Beijing against the so-called bloggers (called Xinlang or Queen Park Cruiser)? Are the Chinese security agencies so inefficient that they could not identify and take action against these so-called ‘anonymous’ bloggers.

Interestingly, the Chinese web posts did not single out India only. Vietnam’s case is another example. Hanoi lodged a protest (August 2008) with Beijing at government levels against an article in Sina.Com and a few other Chinese websites, which disclosed a plan for China’s 31-day invasion of Vietnam involving 310,000 troops sweeping into the latter from Yunnan and Guangxi and by blocking of sea-lanes in South China Sea. Vietnamese foreign office reportedly summoned Chinese diplomats in Hanoi twice to protest against the reported plan. According to the Vietnamese Foreign Minister, Beijing was asked by Hanoi to prevent appearance of such articles.

Another instance concerns South Korea. At the time of Olympics last year, a South Korea-China media row erupted after a Chinese website alleged that in the view of Koreans, Confucius was not Chinese, but a Korean. Also, the South Korean media are annoyed at the media campaign in China in progress since 2003, claiming that Koguryo, the 1300-year old Korean kingdom (existed in the present day North Korea- Manchuria region), was historically under China. For South Korean media, the campaign has hurt the Korean national pride .In particular, they have not taken kindly a ceremony organized by Chinese academics this year to mark the discovery of an unknown stretch of Great Wall in Dandong, close to the North Korean border; their criticism was that the discovery implied an extension of Chinese historical boundary to the ancient Koguryo.

The Chinese media have alleged that the media in India have over-reacted to an obscure web post in China. Any hyping is of course not correct, but the Chinese media should realize that the suggestion in the concerned web post for ‘splitting India’ has been unprecedented and atrocious enough to invite the Indian media’s wrath. They should also ponder over the Vietnamese reaction mentioned above. Is Hanoi’s response both at diplomatic and media levels to Chinese website articles also an over reaction? The basic question is that why the Chinese government is turning a blind eye to articles /blogs carried in the registered websites in the PRC, which the foreign governments and public find most objectionable. I feel puzzled when some Chinese media comments argue that such web posts reflect China’s ‘democracy’ – defending the indefensible indeed!

6) Another puzzling aspect relates to the non-publication so far of the full text of the CCP chief Hu Jintao’s Work Report submitted at the recently held party plenum; such practices had been followed in the past also. Why such secrecy? The plenum also kept everybody guessing on the expected reshuffle of personnel. Wang Changjiang, Director General, Central Party School, while answering a question as to why Xi Jinping, the politburo standing committee member, was not elected as Vice-Chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission, disclosed that personnel reshuffle was not in the agenda of the plenum. Though this somewhat put at rest speculations on the political future of Xi Jinping, widely expected to succeed Hu Jintao in 2012 as CCP General Secretary, a question still persists outside China on whether there was a lack of consensus among the leaders during the plenum on reshuffles in the run up to the next party congress in 2012.

The ‘Economist’ on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of founding the PRC, has said that the world accepts China as a great nation, but China is not behaving like one; that was in the context of human right and other issues, but there is no doubt that media openness is equally another condition for judging China’s greatness; if that condition is fulfilled, the outside world can interpret Chinese pronouncements correctly, leading to a better understanding of China abroad. But, will Beijing move quickly towards media openness? The answer is ‘No’. As long as the ruling party feels that press freedom could be detrimental to its hegemony over Chinese politics, no fundamental change in the PRC’s media policy can be expected. .

(The writer, D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai,

China: Nationalistic Blogs Raise New Issues Concerning Sino-Indian Border D.S.Rajan, C3S Paper No.418 dated December 23, 2009

There is apparently a lull now in the propaganda drive of the Chinese state-controlled media on the Sino-Indian border issue. Epithets like ‘no compromise on territory’, ‘lessons of 1962’ and ‘dangerous consequences for India’, used by them earlier, are carefully being avoided. Adding to the atmosphere is the muted media reaction noticed so far to the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s firm reference (Washington, 25 November 2009) to China’s ‘certain amount of assertiveness of late’ and implied disapproval of that country’s reform path ‘introduced by the writ of the ruling group in a non-democratic set up’. The only critical comment has been in a very brief manner- ‘Unfriendly remarks’, said People’s Daily of 9 December 2009. Similar has been the case with concerns expressed recently by the Indian Defence Minister, Mr. Antony, on China’s military help to Pakistan, with the Chinese media by and large not paying much attention to the same.

The fall in the level of the media rhetoric coincides with some significant military exchanges between the two sides. The Indian Air force Chief has taken part in the Zhuhai (China) air show in November 2009 and two top Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officials – Deputy Chief of Staff General Ge Zhenfeng and the Commander of the Tibet Military District Lt Gen Shu Yutai, have paid visits to India. The symbolic importance of the Tibet military commander’s sojourn in India, at the present juncture comes out clearly.

The Chinese language unofficial websites and blogs in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) however continue to take on India on the border issue, rather vehemently, which should be noted in India if not with alarm. Chinese scholars visiting India have argued in the past that the government is in no position to control bloggers in the country, said to be about 180 million; more over views expressed in the blogs have come from ‘Fen Qing’ or angry youth and do not represent official opinion. On the other hand, the contents of the blogs have always appeared important for analysts abroad as the concerned writers looked knowledgeable, enjoying more often access to the government data and information.

In the context mentioned, what the Chinese websites and blogs have said of late on contentious issues including that of Sino-Indian border deserve close scrutiny. Their views topic-wise are given below:

Sino-Indian war?

First, the blogs in the websites address the question whether there will be a second war with India and if so at what time. Revealing that China’s top central leadership has reached a consensus to teach India a lesson and recover ‘Southern Tibet’ (India’s Arunachal Pradesh), two blog assessments in Chinese language ( dated 1 December 2009 and dated 9 December 2009) predict that Beijing may consider the 2010-2011 period as suitable for action against India; they argue that by that time conditions would have been established for next power transfer in China, economic crisis in China would have been over, the international role of the US would have become extremely weak, China would have become a powerful player in international politics, China would have been able to bring in regional military balance , the PRC’s comprehensive national strength would have developed further in comparison to that of India and lastly, China’s military preparedness would have been completed.

Chinese reinforcement in the border

The second theme in the blogs pertains to reinforcement of China’s troops in the border already carried out and the improvement of logistics on China’s side, in response to India’s recent dispatch of additional forces to Eastern sector. A Blog evaluation (in, dated 11 December 2009) says that India’s sending more 60000 troops is a unilateral step and the same is also a part of Western strategies to contain China. Another Blog (in dated 1 December 2009) highlights the holding of military exercises in the Chengdu Military Region recently, to counter the threat coming from India. Elaborating this point, a report (in dated 6 December 2009) reveals that China’s border defence troops have now entered the strategically important plains in the southwest of Rikaze and East of Yadong covering the trijunction of China, Bhutan and Sikkim, adding that Bhutan, conscious of China’s influence, has been quiet to the presence of Chinese troops in its disputed area. Bhutan has also supported China’s position in the Sino-Indian border talks, it further claims. As per another Blog disclosure ( dated 11 December 2009), with additional troops in position, China’s border with India now stands sealed. The Chinese army is fully prepared as India, taking the reported military training to ULFA in China as a pretext, may plan to attack China, according to another blog (in uid-158463-action-viewspace-itemid-390632)

On upgrading of logistics position, a blog ( dated 11 December 2009) quotes foreign reports to say that that the new airport at A Li with 4500-meter long runway is capable of lifting fighter aircraft and bombers. In the same connection a report ( dated 19 October 2009) focuses on the proposed extension of Qinghai-Tibet railway to Nepal border and a railway project under planning to link China and Pakistan in parallel to the existing China-Pakistan Friendship Highway.

“ Ladakh- Another Southern Tibet”

As third theme of the websites, India’s Ladakh region is being described as part of China’s Tibet, along with the assertion that the Chinese government has never recognized New Delhi’s official position that Ladakh is part of India. Taking this stand, a blog under the title “Ladakh- another Southern Tibet”( dated 13 December 2009) says that the Volume 8 of the “Historical Atlas of China”, published in Beijing showing China’s territories as existed in 1820, included Ladakh as part of China’s Tibet. “Whether it is McMahon line in the East or Johnson line in the West, both have no legal basis and received no recognition from the Chinese government and people”, it asserts.

“Drive India out of Sikkim”

While one blog (, 13 December 2009) says that acceptance of Sikkim as part of India with Nathula as trading point, has been the greatest Chinese concession to India made during border talks, another comment ( dated 6 December 2009) under the caption “ China should drive India out of Sikkim”, finds motives behind India’s deployment of its 27th Mountain Division to Sikkim belt, after shifting it from its original base in Kashmir. It attributes the shift to the strategic pressure from China felt by India. It concludes by saying that a clash of Indian and Chinese strengths to capture Sikkim has already started.

India-Nepal Ties

India-Nepal relation is also a notable topic figuring in the Chinese language websites. Noting India’s high-level treatment to the visiting Nepalese Army Chief in December 2009 and its proposal to supply T-72 tanks to Nepal, a report in the authoritative website ( compares the military assistance to Nepal by China and India and finds China’s help to Nepal’s military training programme as superior. It quotes a Chinese military expert to say that the balanced position being maintained by Kathmandu at the current time of Sino-Indian tensions marks a victory for Beijing’s military strategy in the neighborhood. Also, according to an opinion (, the airport in Nepal’s Surketh, to be built by New Delhi under an agreement with Kathmandu, will be a ‘springboard’ to India for attacking China.


Despite tensions, both Beijing and New Delhi have managed to keep relations at government levels at an even keel and there is constant official exchange of views between the two sides. Even setting up of a hotline between the two prime ministers is under discussion. This being so, there may be some justification if a question is asked as to why pay attention to unofficial blogs now. The aim of this paper, which has done so, is not to create panic and cause misgivings in respect of Sino-Indian ties. But at the same time, it may not be wrong to say that analysts in India have a responsibility to take notice and analyze implications if any, of tall claims being made in the Chinese blogs like the ‘consensus’ at top leadership levels in the PRC to teach a lesson to India and recover Arunachal in the 2010-2011 period. Also, the assertion that Ladakh is part of ‘Southern Tibet’ and that the PRC has never recognized that territory as part of India, definitely raises more suspicions in India on China’s intentions.

(The writer, Mr. D.S.Rajan, is the Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai`,

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