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Chopstick vision

China's behaviour proves it cares little for India's opinion. Reshma Patil writes.

india Updated: Nov 09, 2011 22:59 IST
Reshma Patil

'There's no smoke without fire,' said the Indian diplomat at a hastily arranged meeting in Beijing some two years ago. The foreign ministries of India and China were then busy smoke'n'fire-fighting to douse media reports of Chinese 'transgressions' along the disputed boundary. This was a much more private audience than the one in Delhi last week when the Chinese ambassador Zhang Yan snapped at an Indian journalist to “shut up” when the latter questioned the 'wrong map' of India printed on the brochure of a private firm.

Wherever I travelled as HT's China correspondent between 2008-2011, people asked me why the India media perceive China as 'a threat'. While the controversial Chinese 'stapled visas' to Indian citizens travelling to China from 'disputed' areas such as Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh (AP)sparked outrage in India, the matter was pretty much blacked out in China. AP is 'Southern Tibet' on Chinese maps. But Chinese strategists who describe it as 'disputed territory' — and the handful who bluntly say it's impossible to claim the region even by war — have no voice in the Chinese State media.

'Indian reporter disrupts signing event of China-India cooperation,' headlined the Chinese edition of the Global Times, the nationalist voice of the Chinese Communist Party, last week. China's succumbing to the temptation of blaming real problems in the bilateral relationship on the 'negative Indian media'. The stereotype of the 'negative Indian media' has penetrated Chinese minds to the extent that covering an innocuous 'development' story becomes a challenge. At bilateral events, I noted speeches about the 'many lessons India and China can learn from each other'. Outside the diplomatic arena, these 'growth stories' became off-limits when I approached officials and 'guanxi' (network of contacts).

Many rejections were unexpected. The Shanghai Urban Construction Group, which is investing in infrastructure-building in India evaded personal interviews, not even agreeing to an informal briefing. Lifan, a well-known motorcycle factory in boomtown Chongqing, refused a factory tour. So when ambassador Zhang told the Indian reporter to 'shut up', he reacted to matters not sticking to the 'official script'.

The Communist Party of China routinely silences the government-run media. On its part, the Chinese media remain disinterested in dialogue between its newsroom leaders and the Indian media in China. The two most commented upon stories during the last two years on the Global Times website have been on India's 'unwise' military moves and the prime minister's 'provocative' visit to AP. When I requested for a meeting with the paper's editor-in-chief, he declined. Responding to a poll on the paper's website on whether China will seek a military showdown against India in 20 years, about 258 of the 451 respondents have so far voted yes. Evidence of China's 'arrogance' and 'muscle-flexing' is bubbling on the surface. As is its ostrich-like position, while its soft powerhouse of technocrats, diplomats and thinkers remain inaccessible behind walls.