Last week, when I met a Beijing-based media professor, I grabbed the chance to ask why the India growth story rarely makes news in the state-run Chinese media, with the result that most citizens including journalists in China have vague and outdated ideas about their largest neighbour.
"India is a sensitive subject," he said, referring to the mutual strategic suspicion and the disputed border as a factor in deciding coverage. "And we cannot upset our allies like Pakistan," he bluntly explained.
Chinese media reports this week, linking terror camps inside Pakistan to the latest bloodshed in Xinjiang, were quickly buried after the news hit the headlines in India. The official news agency Xinhua cited authorities in the Silk Road town of Kashgar claiming that suspects nabbed for blasts and knifing attacks last weekend were trained by extremist ringleaders based in Pakistan, which shares a border with the province. Chinese government advisers have also publicly spoken of the terror link, but there was no media follow-up on the angle.
Speculation that the fleeting official reference to Pakistan was a turning point was dampened after the foreign ministry released a statement through Xinhua, hailing the 'excellent cooperation in anti-terrorism' with Pakistan and the country's 'outstanding contributions' to fight terror.
Unrest in Xinjiang is off limits for most Chinese journalists outside Xinhua and the state news channel. The Norway attacks got more detailed coverage than the return of violence in Xinjiang last month. The state is now cranking the media machinery to go after its historic rival Japan for issuing a defence white paper that includes the threat of an 'assertive' China fast modernising its naval force. China's defence ministry has expressed 'strong opposition' to it and the foreign ministry has expressed 'strong dissatisfaction'. Xinhua has unleashed angry rhetoric on Japan's 'irresponsible comments' and 'malicious intentions'.
While the Chinese media is trying to push back against censorship of domestic news on bullet train safety and corruption, its international news reveals an unwavering contrast for allies and rivals and a pattern of bowing to state management. The media students and future journalists I met last week were friendly and focused on domestic news. Asked if they see India as a friend, rival or threat, they simply smiled and said nothing.