Amid heightened geopolitical tensions, India and China are denying visa extensions to each other’s journalists, each effectively expelling almost all media personnel from the rival country in recent months.

As a consequence, the understanding Indians have of their enormous neighbour stands to be impaired, say Indian correspondents who have previously reported from China. The absence of Indian journalists in China will deprive Indian audiences of an Indian perspective on Beijing’s view of the simmering border conflict as well as developments in the world’s second-largest economy, they say.

Tit-for-tat expulsions

Beijing’s revocation in recent months of the accreditations of three Indian correspondents and decision to freeze the visas of two, effectively barring them from returning to China to work, comes in retaliation to Delhi’s measures against Chinese state media journalists. China has also reportedly threatened counter-measures against the last Indian accredited reporter in Beijing if the visa of the last Chinese correspondent in India is not renewed.

If this happens, it will be the first time since the 1980s that no Chinese journalists from its large state media will be stationed in India, The Wall Street Journal reported. Almost all of Chinese media is state owned.

On May 31, China’s foreign ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning justified Beijing’s strategy against Indian journalists. “The number of Chinese journalists stationed in India is about to drop to zero,” Mao said. “Considering this, the Chinese side has no choice but to take appropriate counter-measures to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese media organisations.”

Mao added, “The status of Indian journalists in China would depend on India’s support for Chinese journalists.”

Chinese foreign ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning addressing the press. Credit: Thomas Peter/Reuters
Chinese foreign ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning addressing the press. Credit: Thomas Peter/Reuters

On June 2, India’s foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi countered China’s rationale, highlighting the challenges Indian journalists are facing in China. “We would hope that Chinese authorities facilitate the continued presence of Indian journalists in working and reporting from China,” Bagchi added.

The two sides have been negotiating the imbroglio. China is reportedly demanding that India must provide Chinese journalists year-long visas instead of the three-month permits they had been receiving. New Delhi has been issuing these short-term visas in recent years because it claimed that some Chinese state media reporters were allegedly involved in non-journalistic activities in India.

These tit-for-tat actions against journalists come amid heightened tensions and military stand-offs in recent years along the disputed border between the two nuclear-armed nations. Delhi and Beijing are also increasingly vying for geopolitical influence in South Asia and across the wider Indo-Pacific region.

In 2020, Beijing had similarly expelled American journalists working with three American newspapers amid growing geopolitical tensions between China and the United States. Washington also imposed restrictions on Chinese news outlets, forcing Chinese journalists out of the United States. However, unlike the situation between India and China, a large pool of American and Chinese correspondents had been allowed to stay back in Beijing and Washington.

Journalists attending a news conference in Beijing, China. Credit: Jason Lee/Reuters
Journalists attending a news conference in Beijing, China. Credit: Jason Lee/Reuters

Understanding perspectives

Not having Indian reporters in China “may lead to misconceptions as we’ll be relying more on imagination”, said Atul Aneja, who reported from China for The Hindu between 2014 and 2020. “The hostility will increase if we don’t get the exact picture. It’s important to have our eyes on the ground.”

Sowmiya Ashok, a former Beijing correspondent for The Indian Express, added that “having boots on the ground...feeds into both public perception and effective diplomacy”.

This view is shared on the other side of the border too. “The presence of more journalists from China in India would help to bridge the gap between the two countries and foster a deeper understanding of each other’s cultures and perspectives,” Wang Zichen, a former reporter at China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua, told the Wall Street Journal. “This, in turn, could lead to a reduction in hostility and a more peaceful resolution to the border dispute.”

Telling relevant stories

More importantly, Aneja said, Indian journalists reporting from China help present an “India-centric view” of the country back home that foreign news organisations do not. “Every organisation looks from their perspective,” Aneja said. “Western news organisations will look from a Western perspective and report it in a certain way. We [Indian journalists there] have our own [unique perspective] and our own identity.”

Ashok concurred with this view. “A reporter’s gaze matters while reporting,” she told Scroll. “An Indian journalist will bring a certain nuance to the story that will be written specifically for an Indian reader. Otherwise, we are left consuming information which is written for a Western audience.”

She added, “For example, I worked on a story about the lives of Indian students studying medicine in China which was relevant to Indian readers. We may not find such a story in the Western press.”

With Indian journalists being expelled, The Hindu’s China correspondent Ananth Krishnan, cautioned in a tweet on May 31 that Indian news media’s access to its largest neighbour may soon be only limited to visits organised by the Chinese regime. Krishnan was referring to a television show broadcast by ABP News, a Hindi language news channel, on May 29 showcasing Chinese infrastructure development and tourist attractions.