Event ReportsPublished on Feb 23, 2015
Senior journalists from India and China discussed various important issues affecting the India-China relations and the role of media in both the countries in giving a right perspective to issues and help improve relations further. The platform was the India-China Media Exchange, organised by ORF in Delhi in association with the Global Times Foundation.
India, China and the media

The India-China Media Exchange (ICME) forum was held on January 30 and 31 at Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi. A collaboration between ORF and China’s Global Times Foundation (GTF), the programme was initiated to encourage understanding between the media in India and China. The first round of ICME was hosted by the GTF in China in 2013.

Speaking at the opening of the seminar, ORF Director Sunjoy Joshi said that partnerships like the one between ORF and GTF presented an opportunity to deepen ties between the two countries, despite the occasional hiccups in India-China relations. He noted that the media’s role in shaping public discourse had been impacted by changing news cycle caused by emergence social and new media. As a result, perceptions of ’newsworthiness’ has shifted, causing changes in the way stories are framed.

Honorary Director of GTF and Editor-in-Chief of the Global Times, Hu Xijin agreed, adding that negative reporting was driven by jealousy and animosity on both sides. He expressed his hope that conferences such as the Media Exchange could help prevent such negativity from becoming widespread in both countries. Countering the popular notion that the 21st century will be the century of the US and China, Hu argued that it would be the century of India, China and the US, as the three largest economies and driving powers of the world.

Session 1

Hu Xijin and C Raja Mohan, Distinguished Fellow at ORF, spoke on the first panel, "Discussing PM Modi’s China policy: Expectations on both sides", chaired by Bai Yansong, commentator and anchor for China Central Television (CCTV). The discussants observed that with a clear majority in the Indian Parliament, the Modi government is pursuing many foreign policy innovations, and China looms large in Indian thinking.

The speakers believed that China can assist in promoting prosperity in the South Asian region, where Modi wants to improve cooperation, and China can cooperate with India on Afghanistan. Modi has kept a strong focus on Asia in his foreign visits, and these relationships are important if India is to create a harmonious environment for its economic development.

Modi’s leadership was liked to that of Deng Xiaoping, in that he wants India to open up and collaborate pragmatically with as many partners as possible. Despite the Chinese perception of Modi as a patriotic nationalist, his pragmatism and focus on realist diplomacy could see a resolution of the India-China border disputes.

When the discussion turned to India’s relationship with Pakistan, it was felt that policymakers and the media must have a more rational perspective, rather than jumping to conclusions about China’s influence over Pakistan - Chinese speakers emphasised their country wants to maintain friendly relations with both countries, and will not jeopardise one side to please the other. How far that position could be maintained when the situation in Pakistan affects not only India, but Afghanistan and the West - not to mention China - was debated. The balance of the China-Pakistan relationship was too complex to be equated to the relationship between India and Japan.

The panel closed with the feeling that Modi’s China policy was still being crafted and could not yet be judged, though the feeling that he would be the most aggressive prime minster in Indian history when it came to China was slowly being corrected, partly due to media coverage. Media interaction can be just as important as government-to-government links in increasing cooperation.

Session 2

The theme of the second panel, chaired by newspaper columnist Ashok Malik, was "Solving economic cooperation difficulties and unlocking the economic potential" of the China-India relationship. The discussants, Wen Zijian, Editor-in-Chief of Security Times and Suhasini Haidar, Diplomatic Editor of The Hindu, suggested that the trade deficit between India and China was leading to a trust deficit.

The economic relationship between the two countries has not reached anywhere near its potential, which is partly because economic discussions are blocked by a focus on security and politics. Noises from the new Indian government are positive, with promises of a greater role for Chinese companies in the Indian manufacturing sector.

China is the infrastructure provider for Asia, and India needs infrastructure - from ports, to roads, to telecommunications and power. Building physical links between the countries, through road and rail links will also bring them closer together. The tourism industry could provide a boost to the economies of both India and China, and should be promoted. Many Indians and Chinese are keen to visit religious places on either side of the border, yet members of the world’s two largest populations hardly visit each other. Connected to these issues is the required revamp of the visa regime between the two countries, which must be made easier to navigate movement across borders. The importance of multi-entry visas, particularly for the media, should not be underplayed.

The media can help relay the benefits of an economic partnership, and has a big role to play in alleviating the distrust that has marred discussions in the past. While the media might not be able to reduce tariffs or increase investment on their own, they can do much to improve the mood for business in the two countries.

Session 3

The third session, on the "Portrayal of the other in the news media and digital platforms" revolved around the contention that negative reporting was distorting otherwise smooth relations between India and China, border disputes notwithstanding. The session was chaired by Niu Zhen, Chief Correspondent in India of Wen Hui, with Ranjit Kumar, Diplomatic Editor of the Navbharat Times and Tang Lu, Chief Correspondent in Mumbai for Xinhua as discussants.

There was agreement that citizens in both countries need to be provided with a balanced view of the scenario between the two nations. It was suggested that despite supposedly greater freedom, the Indian media is similar to the Chinese media when it comes to relations between the two countries. The media in India and China are still hung up on issues like the 1962 war, so while both countries have developed good relations with the US, they have not with each other. This despite the fact that as close neighbours, the two countries are better placed to partner with each other than countries which are far away.

One view was that the fierce competition for viewership in the Indian media was leading to non-newsworthy stories being sensationalised for sales purposes. Similarly, stories about Indian deprivation and accidents like train derailments are given undue importance by the Chinese media. It was concluded that the standard and professionalism of journalism in both countries could be improved. This could be achieved by increasing reporting by encouraging young correspondents, increasing funding for fact-finding and focussing on original reporting rather than borrowing from Western media sources. Additionally, reporters should be able to rely on strong editorial teams.

Session 4

Ma Weigong, Deputy Chief of China Radio International and BR Deepak, Professor and Chairman of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies Centre at JNU discussed "Enhancing people to people cooperation", during the fourth panel, chaired by Maya Mirchandani, Foreign Affairs Editor and Senior Anchor for NDTV.

The panel addressed the issue of language as a barrier to cooperation, noting that a dependence on translators adds to complications, and it is difficult to understand another country through a third medium. The importance of original sources cannot be overstated, and the over-reliance on American and other writings should be reduced. More language courses are required, and teachers should be offered good incentives to cross borders. Government-to-government scholarships are few in number, and could be increased.

Speakers agreed that at one time, anti-imperialism and the mutual struggle against colonialism united India and China in spirit. Now though, despite being neighbours, Indians and Chinese are strangers to each other. To facilitate tourism, governments need to promote interaction and exchange by relaxing visa regulations. However, government efforts alone are not enough; institutions and the private sector must do their part to broaden horizons. Think tanks are increasing in number in both countries, but very few of them conduct exchanges like this one. More direct contact is needed to promote understanding.

Setting aside political issues, cultural exchanges were deemed to be important, with exchanges of movies, music and religion. Physically connecting the two peoples will take time, but existing communications channels should be utilised to their fullest extent.

Session 5

Manish Chand, Editor of the Indiawrites Network and Liao Hong, Editor-in-Chief of People’s Daily Online spoke on the fifth panel, "Adapting to the New Media Landscape", chaired by Niu Zhen. The panel discussed how the speed of information dissemination increased with the rise in popularity of new media platforms. There are more than 250 million internet users in India, which is Facebook’s second largest market, and Twitter and Youtube are popular. China alone has more than 600 million internet users, around half of whom use social media. These platforms are becoming the stage for public discourse, particularly among the young who access them through smart phones, and are in some cases engaging in citizen journalism.

Big media houses have tried to incorporate new media into their business models; print media is losing revenue and media outlets are moving online. New media is also changing the way news and other information is consumed. There is an ease of access with applications and websites accessible from a phone. This also makes it easier for citizens to express their own opinions. Politicians are beginning to harness social media for their purposes. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has 10 million followers on Twitter, and regularly updates them about his travels, policies and more. New media can offer another platform for exchange between India and China, and the media can do its part to encourage this.

Session 6

The closing session of the day saw final comments from Sunjoy Joshi, Hu Xijin, Manoj Joshi and Wu Jie, Vice Editor-in-Chief of the Global Times.

The participants lauded the frank and open exchange that took place, pointing out that no one should shied away from the contentious issues between India and China. The two civilisations have a long history going back three thousand years, and their disputes have been limited to lines drawn by a third party. Nevertheless, the issues are multi-layered and complex. The media is expected to make the debate on these issues more sophisticated than they have done so far. The relationship is more nuanced than it has been in the past, and there is engagement on multiple levels. As one speaker joked, even husbands and wives fight; but not every fight ends in a divorce.

People to people relations can resolve many of these issues, and there is strong public demand on both sides to increase the capacity of interactions between India and China. Citizens will travel more when they are wealthy enough to do so - mutual prosperity will lead to better mutual understanding. Media relations form a bridge between the people. The restrictive reporting of the past should give way to more professional and accessible reporting.

India and China did not choose to be neighbours, but must come to terms with the situation, rather than trying to contain each other. The guiding principle for the media should be: India-China relations were strong in the past, and will be strong again.

Special Session

As part of the India-China Media Exchange, a special session on "India-China and a Changing Asia" took place, chaired by C Raja Mohan with comments from Bai Yansong and Pranab Dhal Samanta, Executive Editor of India Today.

Central to the discussion was the idea that Asia is changing, and the world is changing with it. Within Asia, there is a shifting balance of power, and it is not yet clear who would lead the ’Asian integration’, were it to take place. China has been a leader, particularly in the last 20 years, driving the economic growth in the region. Colonial legacy has had a big impact on India and China - from the administrative systems in place to the policy culture to the language we are speaking today. The idea of a pan-Asian alliance against Western colonial powers should be updated, and countries in Asia should build regional institutions. Lurking behind economic integration is risk - will security compromises be necessary if Asia decides to become interdependent and self-reliant?

The statement that India has a free press has been repeated often, with the underlying assumption being that China does not. However, Chinese speakers challenged the use of this media freedom in India -- are people using their freedom to contribute to prosperity and stability in their own societies and in the region? Or is it simply being used to perpetuate whatever stories, true or false, sell the most? The media can play a large role in ensuring the stability of Asia, by ensuring that tensions which could lead to war are not enflamed. This means acknowledging issues like the border and Pakistan, but reporting on them in a rational manner. There is also a need to focus on societal issues like taking care of ageing populations, and managing environmental concerns.

Throughout the discussions during the India-China Media Exchange, the importance of collaboration between people and institutions on both sides of the border was repeatedly highlighted. This is particularly true of the media, given the role it plays in forming public opinion. Institutional partnerships like the one between the Observer Research Foundation and the Global Times Foundation are key drivers for mutual understanding and a deeper relationship between India and China.

(This report is prepared by Anahita Mathai, Junior Fellow, with inputs from William Poff-Webster, Luce Fellow, Harinder Deep Singh Bains and Shubh Soni, Research Interns, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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