View from China

Murky signals: By focusing on China’s English media, Indian analysts are misreading Beijing

The bellicose Global Times editorial does not reflect Beijing’s thinking. Beware.

As the border stand-off in Doklam defies resolution, the Indian commentariat is increasingly analysing what appears in China’s English media, presumably for insights into Beijing’s thinking. It is a misguided enterprise.

Only about 1%-2% of the Chinese media is in English, and much of it peddles hypernationalism as a market strategy, not unlike a section of the Indian media. The Global Times, for one, spews venom against India the same way as Times Now does against Pakistan. Unsurprisingly then, most of the so-called experts who populate the columns of the Global Times carry little heft, intellectual or political.

Since reputed Chinese scholars publish mostly in their own language, they are not read widely across the border.

Instead, commentators in India overanalyse bellicose articles threatening to “teach a lesson” and “reconsider China’s policy on Sikkim”; retorting, in a dig at Army chief Bipin Rawat’s remark that India was ready to fight a “two and a half front war”, that the “Chinese look down upon their military power”; or warning that a “third country can enter Kashmir” on Pakistan’s request.

By giving undue importance to such articles by amateur scholars – merely because they write in English – India’s strategic experts and policy advisers enable them to influence New Delhi’s China policy.

Falling for the trap

If Indian scholars could look beyond the inflammatory editorials in the Global Times, they would realise that the Chinese media’s coverage of India has changed for the better. Save for Huanqiu Shibao, the Mandarin edition of the Global Times, the Chinese language media perceives India positively.

Last week, People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, republished its editorial of September 22, 1962 to remind India of the bitter lesson” of the 1962 India-China war and warn that China would inflict “greater losses than 1962”. It was, however, soon withdrawn. The Chinese edition of the daily did not carry the editorial, or even a report on the Doklam stand-off that day.

The state news agency Xinhua carried an English commentary asking India “to rectify its mistakes and show sincerity to avoid an even more serious situation creating more significant consequences”.

It appears the psychological war launched by China’s English media is solely intended to invite counter attacks from the Indian media. It is working rather well, if the coverage of the stand-off by TV news channels and Hindi newspapers is any evidence. This “media war” only serves to deepen the common Indian’s negative perception of China, and vice-versa. Young Chinese hold little or no antipathy towards India, but the hysteria over the Doklam stand-off could have them reorder their list of the most hated nations.

It is, thus, imperative that India and China rush to the negotiating table and resolve the stand-off. Parallely, the media in both countries must act responsibly. As Ma Jiali, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, emphasises, only “close cooperation” can pave the way for a good India-China relationship.

Rajiv Ranjan is assistant professor at the Shanghai University’s College of Liberal Arts.

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