Thursday, October 15, 2009

India: China steps up media rhetoric

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Simultaneously with the publication of a strong anti-India editorial by the "Global Times" of China on October 14,2009, the party-run "People's Daily", has come out with an equally-strong anti-India editorial the same day under the title "Indian hegemony continues to harm relations with neighbors."

2.The "Global Times" belongs to the "People's Daily" group of publications of the Communist Party of China. While the "Global Times" seeks to project itself as an independent newspaper not necessarily voicing the opinion of the party, the "People's Daily" continues to be the voice of the party. It is generally believed that the editorials and op-ed articles carried by it have been pre-approved by the party before publication.

3. Ever since the 'Global Times" started coming out with editorials and articles critical of India and making derogatory references to India after April this year, the "People's Daily" followed the policy of occasionally reproducing some of the comments of the "Global Times" without identifying itself with those comments. It did carry opinion pieces on Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but they were largely free of any negative references to India.

4.Thus, till recently, one saw a three-pronged approach by Beijing in matters relating to relations with India.Governmental spokespersons continued to be conciliatory while referring to issues relating to India. the "Global Times" was increasingly critical of India---even virulently sometimes--- and the "People's Daily" sometimes reproduced the comments of the "Global Times" without any anti-India comments of its own editorial department.

5. This policy seems to have changed from October 13. The comments of the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on the recent electoral visit of Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh to Arunachal Pradesh are anything but conciliatory. Instead of following its past policy of seeking to lower down the rhetoric in the local media, the Foreign Ministry itself seems to have taken the initiative in stepping up the rhetoric. Taking the cue from the Foreign Ministry, the"Global Times" and the "People's Daily" have come out with no-holds-barred criticism of India.

6.Whereas the editorial of the "Global Times" was Arunachal Pradesh-centric in the context of our Prime Minister's visit to that Indian State, the "People's Daily's" criticism is focussed on the general directions of the Indian policy towards its neighbours. It tends to be critical as well as derogatory. It does not contain the kind of warnings to India that one noticed in the editorial of the "Global Times", but the bluntness of its depiction of India and its attitude to its neighbours recalls to one's mind the similar depiction of India by the Chinese media and party circles before Deng Xiao-ping introduced a more nuanced and a more conciliatory policy towards India starting ftrom 1978.

7.The "People's Daily's" projection of India as a hegemonistic power, its underlining of the common experiences and common difficulties of China and Pakistan in dealing with India with which both have pending border disputes and its references to India's war with China and Pakistan disturbingly indicate a reversal to the pre-Deng projection of India in negative terms and to the pre-1978 rhetoric.

8. Its description of India's policy of "befriending the far and attacking the near" is unmistakably a reference to the developing strategic relations between India and the US the foundation for which was laid by the previous US President George Bush. Since President Barack Obama assumed office, he has been trying to exclude from this relationship aspects which could cause concern to China. Despite the positive attitude of the Obama Administration to China, Beijing continues to view the India-US strategic relations with suspicion and continues to suspect a common Indo-US objective of countering China.

9. The anti-India rhetoric in the party-controlled media and even from the Foreign Ministry has come at a time when there has been speculation of a weakening of the position of President Hu Jintao following the July outbreak of violence in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang province, which forced him to cancel his participation in the G-8 summit in Italy and return ahead of schedule to Beijing to handle the situation in Xinjiang.

10. Reports from Tibet and Xinjiang indicate that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has been increasingly in the driving seat of decision-making in matters relating to these two provinces and China's relations with India. The more hawkish line adopted by the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the party media indicate that the hawks in the PLA and the party have started influencing the policy towards India.

11. It is important for the leaders of the two countries to get in touch with each other to eliminate the possibility of trans-border incidents caused by a misreading and misinterpretation of each other's intentions and moves.

12. It is clear from the present campaign against India that Beijing has come to the conclusion that it has made whatever concessions it could to India and that it is India's turn to make concessions to China in the negotiations on the border dispute. (15-10-09)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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