Sunday, August 1, 2010

Looking at the China India relations through the lens of the media

One issue which the media likes to focus on, quite periodically, is the Sino-India border problem, and it is true that the border issue has been simmering for a long time. But there is much more to the relationship between these two Asian neighbours, much beyond borders. Pallavi Aiyar, who spent six years in China as a journalist, speaks to Nitin Pai on how the media is shaped in the two countries, and how the media might impact the relationship between the two neighbours. The conversation also looks at the significance of soft power, and the fueling of nationalist sentiments. Pallavi Aiyar is the author of ‘Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China’. Ms Aiyar is based in Brussels, and is the correspondent for the Business Standard newspaper in India.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview, A lot more than a border”, is published in Pragati magazine, in its August 2010 issue.

Nitin Pai: There used to be—and there is to some extent—a perception in India that what comes out in the Chinese media is the view of the Chinese government. Certainly Mao Zedong was known to have vetted the editorials in the People’s Daily during the India-China tensions in the late 1950s and 60s. To what extent is such a perception still valid?

Pallavi Aiyar: The Chinese media landscape is an increasingly complex one and a far cry from Maoist times. A multiplicity of media operate today ranging from fully controlled party papers like the People’s Daily, to more independent and critical regional media like Nanfang Zhoumo (Southern Weekend) in Guangzhou, and racy, tabloid papers that operate as purely commercial enterprises. There are also a variety of specialist publications focused on finance, business or the environment that increasingly attempt an independent line and push the envelope against government censorship.
That said, foreign affairs and China’s international relations remains a subject that is strongly controlled by the government and independent writings on the topic are forbidden. Even today central and regional propaganda departments send weekly (and sometimes daily) instructions to all media outlets about subjects deemed taboo. Editors who transgress orders are, depending on the assessed severity of the violation, warned, demoted or fired.
Writings on India in the Chinese media therefore almost always have official sanction even if they do not always reflect the government’s official position. This is equally true of Party media and so called independent media like the Global Times (which is in fact controlled by the People’s Daily group).
Since the Party is not a monolith, differing opinions on India in the Chinese media reflect the differing shades of opinion within the Chinese government. However, although it is often claimed otherwise by the Chinese, they do not simply reflect the opinion of the author.
The internet and blogs are an altogether different kettle of fish. These are not routinely subject to propaganda department orders. If a blog is discovered to be overly transgressive the government is able to either shut it down or have the “offending” material deleted. However, there can be considerable gaps in time before the publication of an unauthorised article and its discovery. Moreover, the writings on a blog are more likely to reflect the personal opinion of the writer rather than that of the government or a faction of the government.

Nitin Pai: How about the other way around: how much do views expressed in the Indian media (by mediapersons and analysts) affect Chinese perceptions of Indian government policy?

Pallavi Aiyar: The Chinese monitor Indian media carefully and the coverage of Sino-Indian developments is seen as a key indicator of the strategic “pulse” in India. There is an awareness that media in India can often take a standpoint that is different or even contrary to the government line. On the other hand there is also the belief that media do not invent stories out of thin air and that they are usually based on leaks from within the government or military establishments. There is less understanding of the extent to which media in India, particularly television, is driven by the competition for ratings and the tendency towards sensationalism this generates. The idea that the media can create out of what might originally have been a “genuine” story, a run-away monster over which the authorities have little control, is not something the Chinese have an automatic grasp of. The danger of a misreading of Indian media is therefore a significant one and can create a backlash at the policy level.
The Chinese are also aware of the difference between news coverage per se and the comments and analysis that are usually written by strategic pundits. The latter are taken particularly seriously since it is known that the writers are often also strategic advisors to the government.

You may like to read the full interview here. A lot more than a border”, is published in Pragati magazine, August 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Friends,

    Hi this is Samir a mechnical engineer working with a steel export company since last 15 years ,from New Delhi India , We sincerely believe that peace
    in south Asian region is the only desire by all living in India and
    China , We always wish and hope that top leaders in both the countries
    understand this that
    after centuries our civilization has come to this stage that we can
    dream and work for better life for our citizens , We need to focus more
    on co-operation between technology and human resource sharing so that
    both countries can make better living for all.
    There is no authenticity in who is in number one position in Asia , But
    it is the quality of progress and life that any region can offer to its
    All countries are well equipped with nuclear capabilities and with
    weapon of mass destruction , It should not happen that mistake of our
    generation leave a permanent scar on our lifes , that will require
    generations of pain and misery to fill in our lifes.

    Humanity is very very advanced now and very much mature too. We
    sincerely pray to god & believe that China – India can be good friends
    again and if tried with open mind , We can be brothers too soon as we
    used to be 60 years ago when there was abject poverty in both the

    Regards ,

    Er.Samir Agarwal.
    Mobile -0091-9811563958.