A new beginning at Hua Hin

NEW DELHI: Indian prime minister Man Mohan Singh met his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao during delegation-level talks on the sidelines of ASEAN summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, yesterday. N Ravi, Secretary, East, Indian Ministry of External Affairs, said that both the sides expressed commitment to further deepen the strategic partnership.

Chinese Foreign Minister is also due to visit India shortly for the Russia-China-India trilateral talks. The occasion will afford an opportunity to Indian Foreign Minister SM

Krishna to hold a one-on-one with his Chinese counterpart and touch upon various issues of mutual concern and mutual interest in the bilateral relationship.

These two meetings help broad base the ‘dialogue’ and clear the air of ‘some misunderstanding’ between the giant Asian neighbours. Will it pave the way for a return to the good old Bhai Bhai days in the India-China relations? Certainly not in the foreseeable future, least of all because of the stark contrast between the ‘hysterical’ Indian media and the ‘sober’ Chinese media, as Beijing itself has gone to the town with its ‘sitrup’.

The Chinese case is that the Indian media is whipping up anti-Chinese views with tacit government support. In contrast, the Chinese media as well as the government are ‘cool and level headed’ in their approach towards India. Well, for a country where dissent can elicit extreme response with army bullets, police firing and jail terms, it is obviously hard to understand that in democracies convergence of views between the media and the government is not common.

Chinese media, which is government-controlled, and the Chinese government pretend to be so profusely ignorant that they are unaware of the freedom enjoyed by the media in free countries, where the media can support the government in one instance and oppose it the next moment. Some Indian Sinologists tend to take the ‘positive’ view that the Chinese criticism of the Indian media may be aimed at their domestic audience.

Unless one can pierce through the iron curtain, this assessment cannot be verified in a country where everything is orchestrated and programmed like synchronised, choreographed routine on parallel bars and high bars. So, in the short to medium term at least, to the Indian ears, the Chinese outburst sounds hollow, ill informed and patently mischievous.

The Chinese have described much of what has been appearing in the Indian media — China’s incursions in Ladakh belt, China aided dams in Pak administered Kashmir, China’s claims over Arunachal on the very day the locals exercised their franchise to elect their leaders, which is certainly unknown and unheard beyond the ‘McMahon Line’, new Kashmir maps et al — as either inaccurate or deliberately twisted to show them in bad light. That will appear to be so for the Chinese media and the people. Internet may have penetrated into China and the surfers may be more there than in India. But do they have a way out to surf what is not regulated? Do they read or hear about various ‘provocations’ by their government against India, either in recent days or previously. The Chinese ambassador to Delhi has written a lengthy article on bilateral ties in a ‘nationalist’ Indian newspaper, which has acquired the sobriquet of India’s NCNA (New China News Agency). The envoy asserted that relations between India and China are ‘irreversible’. If that indeed is the case, as it should be in the 21st century, when there is enough space for both countries to prosper and progress, it defies logic that his country and his country’s media rarely miss an opportunity to run down everything Indian — India, its government and the media as anti-Chinese.

Do these sections of Chinese want

all the Indian eyes to turn blind to

increasing acts of provocation and

all the Indians to turn deaf to increasing anti-India decibel level? Put differently, there should never be any mention in India of Chinese ‘incursions’. No offense should be felt if the Chinese issue visas to Indians from Jammu and Kashmir on a separate piece of paper. And accept without a demur the Chinese veto in deciding who should visit Arunachal Pradesh.

Frankly, it will be wrong to assume that all the hysteria is in the Indian media and that voices in China are muted and sober. A recent article in the

People’s Daily, the voice of Communist China, shows that the Chinese are

anything but sober. Li Hongmei, the author, who may be a professional

hack or may be a party factotum,

begins by saying that the contentious border ‘issue’ between India and China can be settled only when both sides ‘shake off their traditional conceptions and deep-seated misunderstandings.’ Well, who is hostage to history? India, of course, going by the tone and tenor of the write up.

The Li article reflects a sense of Chinese discomfort at India catching up with the Dragon. No surprise, therefore, it goes full blast against the ‘hype’ in the Indian media over the border ‘dispute’ (not an ‘issue’ at the time the article appeared in mid-September). It accuses Indian media of using the ‘Chinese Threat theory’ as a cliché, and churning public opinion into a ‘roaring sea’ against not only the government in Beijing but also the ‘Chinese people’!

The author admits that the Chinese have retorted ‘sarcastically’ to India but praises the Chinese media for exercising ‘restrain’ to ‘salvage’ the situation from further deterioration. This touching ‘restraint’ induced the author to ridiculing India’s ‘loud bragging’ about its economic and military strength to ‘intimidate’ China. And remind anyone who cares to read the outpouring that India, though emboldened by America, is a ‘lesser power’ and its media is ‘fanatic’ which is stoking the fires of a ‘life and death’ fight between the two countries.

Li Hongmei’s critique gives a fresh currency to the long held belief that chauvinism breeds behind closed doors and not open societies which are saved from such danger with their visible checks and balances. Some other recent reports in Chinese media belong to ‘believe it if you want’ genre. One such report said India plans to blast the rail link to Tibet because ‘Delhi sees the line on the roof of the world as a means for quick deployment of Chinese forces to attack India’.

An aggressive media campaign side-by-side talks is a time-tested weapon in the Chinese armoury as Beijing’s relations with a host of other countries from Vietnam to Japan and Russia to the USA and even Pakistan bears out. Now it is India’s turn as Delhi, the city of Red Fort, has demonstrated that one need not necessarily be a city with Tiananmen Square to withstand the vagaries of global meltdown.

Admittedly the relations between India and China are too complex. And both nations are on a long march for a place at the global high table. It goes without saying that whenever an opportunity arises, both sides should meet and avail the opportunity to raise all issues including issues of concern. That is the only civilised way to remove misunderstandings.

And to spread the good word that China has indeed traversed a long

distance away from the days of 18th century ‘empire’ to 21st century ‘People’s Republic’.

Malladi Rama Rao is a veteran journalist and Coordinating Editor of the Policy Research Group.