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Positive diplomacy drowning in jingoism?

world Updated: May 19, 2013 16:35 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis

The way Indian and Chinese media covered the latest border dispute was a study in wide contrast. Perhaps an indicator of the role media is playing in shaping diplomacy between an imperfect but raucous democracy and an economically superior, authoritarian regime.

In India, news about the Chinese intrusion into Daulat Beg Oldi led to a spontaneous eruption of news and, often jingoistic, opinions across traditional and new media. Fuelled by relentless broadcasts of 24/7 news channels, the Indian media portrayed alarm - a meek, defensive New Delhi losing out to sneaky, manipulative Beijing. The response in the state-controlled Chinese media was calibrated: initially, silence.

Unusually, the hyperactive Chinese Weibo, the country's Twitter-like social media platforms, hardly picked up the issue; probably reflecting the lack of information in mainstream media and also lack of interest among Weibo users.


The Chinese foreign ministry daily urged the media - the Indian media presumably - to remain calm. The Communist Party of China (CPC) had by then probably signaled to its media arm that the incident wasn't to be played up. Only passing mentions were made and focus was on Beijing's denial. The national broadcaster, CCTV, with millions of viewers, did not cover it.

Experts here feel that by not covering the incident in the early stages, Chinese media, under close CPC supervision, aided China-India relations. Too often, they said the Indian media's angry, anti-China rhetoric drowned positive diplomacy between the two countries; too often, they said, misinformed Indian media had misled. "For example, they were using the word 'occupied' which should not be used. The area under question is disputed. If you call that Indian territory, it is a problem," said Dr Ma Jiali, China Reform Forum.

One basic difference was the media's allegiance. "Chinese media is attached to the state. So, journalists have a responsibility about China-India relationship. But Indian media is not responsible to the state - only to the news," said Tang Lu, senior researcher, Xinhua Centre for World Affairs.

Perhaps not magically then, China began following up once the standoff was over. Opinion pieces gushed about bilateral relations and how two ancient civilisations had the sage wisdom to tide over a long, disputed issue. And how, Premier Li Keqiang was holding his breath to return to India after 27 years to plant saplings of friendship. No one in China probably expects the Indian media to water that sapling.