In what seemed like a game of Chinese whispers gone too far, the Indian media on Monday and Tuesday reported with great relish that Pakistan had decided to make Mandarin one of the country’s official languages, apart from Urdu and English. The Pakistan Senate, the story went, had approved a motion to this effect on Monday, ostensibly to strengthen the country’s ties with China. Additionally, this would help people working on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor communicate better, said the reports.
The narrative was furthered with glee by the Indian media, who viewed it as a fresh example of Pakistan’s appeasement of rival China. That the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which India has repeatedly opposed, was mentioned in connection with the reports added to their news value.
“CPEC effect: Pakistan tags China’s Mandarin as official language month after replacing dollar with yuan for bilateral trade”, announced the headline of the Financial Express.
“To enhance CPEC communication, Pakistan makes China’s Mandarin an official language”, declared Zee News.
Times Now stressed on the growing closeness between the two countries in its report headlined, “Pakistan tilts further towards China, makes Mandarin one of its official languages”.
Outrage was quick to follow on Twitter, on both sides of the border.
This made for exciting news, but it wasn’t quite the truth.
A motion pertaining the Chinese language had indeed been passed in the Pakistani Senate on Monday, with a mention of CPEC and the word “official” in it, but that is where the similarity ended. The motion, by Senator Khalida Parveen of the People’s Party of Pakistan, merely suggested that the official Chinese language be taught in Pakistan, to “current and prospective CPEC human resource”.
“This House recommends that, in view of the growing collaboration between Pakistan and China under the CPEC, courses of the Official Chinese Language should be launched for all current and prospective Pakistani CPEC human resource in order to overcome any costly communication barriers.”
The motion was not about making Mandarin the official language of Pakistan. It was about teaching the official Chinese language in Pakistan. This does not take away from Pakistan’s growing closeness to the Asian giant – the motion specifically mentions that fact and several reports indicate that the language is become increasingly popular in the country – but it is not quite the same as according official status to a foreign language in a country that has numerous regional tongues, some in dire need of attention.
So how did the news get misinterpreted and then amplified?
The news seems to have been first misreported by Pakistan’s Abb Tak news channel.
This was picked up by several news outlets, including the the Indian news agency Asian News International. But by the time ANI reported the story, the approval of “motion to declare Chinese as official language” (which was wrong to start with), had become: Mandarin approved as official language of Pakistan.
The sequence thereon is not entirely clear, but several subsequent India media reports quoted ANI in their articles on the topic. Even though the actual text of the motion came out later on Monday, Indian reports published on Tuesday continued to parrot the wrong claim about Pakistan making Mandarin its official language in the rush to put out eyeball-grabbing news, even though none of the credible Pakistani channels had carried the news.
Meanwhile, several Twitter users also pointed out that the initial Abb Tak report had got it wrong.
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