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'India-China relations are very complex and very sensitive'

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: October 06, 2011 18:49 IST
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"It doesn't help India when media needlessly bashes China" think sources in New Delhi.

In an unusual attempt, when world is living through rise of major power China in Asia, the sources tried hard to drive the point that Indian media should give some breathing space to diplomats to conduct diplomacy with their Chinese counterparts. "it doesn't make any sense to demonise China" they added.

The sources went as far as advising media that "don't needle China". They said, "crying wolf" does not serve purpose in building of relationship. The sources added that "crying from rooftops (against China's attitude) will only hardened positions."  

They claim, in every bilateral meeting, Chinese brings up the topic of "anti-China" reportage in Indian media which they believe is supported and fed by Ministry of External Affairs.

Indian diplomats have been trying hard to make Chinese understand that Indian media doesn't follow briefing given by publicity division because they behave independent of government.

It seems, recently, the government-to-government relation is looking for some flexibility to enhance the relationship.

The Indian government has invited Nur Bekri, Chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. He will be visiting India in first week of November.

He is of Uyghur ethnicity and was born in Xinjiang. During the ethnic riots of 2009 he spoke firmly against, "forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism" who created a rift between ethic Chinese communities.


Bekri's visit is important event in bilateral relations. Indian side has been telling aggressive media since last many months that, "Give us leeway; we will work out the differences with China."

However, more than media diplomats of MEA should work out system with the senior officials of Indian defence forces from where some of the so-called "anti-China" stories are emanating.

Army chief General V K Singh told the media on Wednesday, "Around 3,000 to 4,000 of these people are present including certain people for security purposes. There are certain engineers troops. Now (like) our own engineers are combat engineers. So, in some way they are part of the PLA," he said in New Delhi.

On many occasions, the Indian government and media reflects very different versions of bilateral issues. Recently, Indian government came out with a different version of INS Airavat controversy in South China Sea then what was reported in press.

In the press release, the external affairs ministry said there was no "confrontation" involving the INS Airavat near seas of Vietnam.

Every time the MEA gives a clarification, a section of the Indian media finds the official Indian response to any issue involving China "timid and complacent". But, MEA spokesmen keeps repeating to reporters who care to listen, that, "The India-China relations are very important, very complex and very sensitive."

Many China experts also claim that reality of Indian-China relation is different than what is reported in Indian media. The government-to-government response is very measured and much matured. This impression is not carried in the Indian media and it has to be corrected, think many Indian government officials.

In fact, the allegation is that Indian media sees issues related to China in black and white only, but the sources say, "We don't see as such. We see shades of grey."

In view of the fast-changing scenario of the entire region, Indian government seems to have woken up to the issue of critical media coverage of China in the Indian press and television, which is functioning as a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.

Sometimes, it helps government interlocutors to build up the pressure on Chinese in hard bargaining on sensitive issues but not always. Since the geo-political situation is changing rapidly in the Indian neighbourhood, the Indian government wants to tread carefully with China on many issues, especially economic and border issue. 

The sources explained that China is "the most important and most sensitive relation" for India. While accepting the fact that there are divergences between both countries, the sources added, "It does not serve any purpose to gloss over positives between India and China."

After all, China is the second largest economy in world and in less than a decade it will be $ 6 trillion economy.

"China's rise is the reality" said sources, before advising the media that, "It does not help our interests to have an antagonistic attitude."

The sources also said that the Indian media is creating "An issue when there is none." He said it is in India's interest to have cordial relations with China.

It is interesting to note that trade relations with China have grown 17 per cent in the first 8 months of this year. It's expected that trade target of $ 100 billion by 2015 is likely to be achieved. Anil Ambani's ADAG has raised a huge loan in Renminbi in China.

The export basket with China shows that India exports primary goods while it imports engineering goods from China. The trade deficit of around $ 20 billion is the major issue worrying India.

The government has told China that it wants to push export of pharmaceuticals and computer software. On September  26 and 27, the first-ever Indo-China Strategic Economic Dialogue took place in Beijing which was led by deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and on China's side by Zhang Ping, chairman of China's powerful National Development and Reform Commission.

Both sides talked about many issues including planning commission reports of both countries to energy, water and infrastructure-investment issues, as well.

During the visit, when Ahluwalia met Premier Wen Jiabao, he mentioned that China is happy to see that India is able to maintain it's growth rate in spite of global economic slowdown.

The strategic dialogue is the brainchild of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to institutionalise mechanism to talk freely on gamut of bilateral issues. Already, India and China have better understanding on Doha round, Climate change, West Asia and issue of piracy on high seas.

However, the sources admitted that while talking to India China is not forthcoming on Pakistan and Afghanistan but both countries do discuss the Af-pak related problems in the region.

Chinese have told Indians what Americans have been saying to India that, " Pakistan needs to be build up for stability of the country." 

India thinks that the issue of unsettled 3500 km borders with China is the most important issue. Indian media's reportage on the border issue is not at all appreciated by China.

The Indian side has been trying to explain that delineation of India-China borders have not taken place so any kind of incursions, if and when takes place is actually position taken on basis of "perception of the border" by respective armies.

These incursions, which are taking place by Indian and Chinese armies in each others' territories will continue till the border issue is settled.

The sources wanted media to not sensationalise such incursions, since it is taking from both sides. The incursions were there and will be there on the India-China borders, say the sources.

The Indian government has said it before many times that there is mechanism available to settle any incident taking place on borders. Due to this system, not a bullet has been fired on India-China border in the last 30 years.

Since China has executed or is executing currently infrastructure projects worth $40 billion in India such platform has become necessary. Chinese are building highways, metros and power projects with rapid speed and affordable projects.

The Indian government now has "laser sharp" focus on trade deficit with China. The sources are now claiming, "We would like China to play a role. If cheap Chinese capital is available, then why should India not take it?"

The government seems to be veering to the view or giving the impression that if China can help build roads and railways and energy plants India should not hesitate.

In fact, the sources are now giving spin to cool down tempers on all burning bilateral issues. When asked on "string of pearls" theory that envisages China's policy to encircle India in the Indian Ocean, Indian moderates are saying that even India has increasingly good relations with countries such as Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Mongolia that matters to China.

When asked on PM Singh's remarks that China has become an assertive power, the sources are now saying the Chinese assertion is also worrying many other countries and not just India.

When talked about the aggressive build-up in neighbouring countries on the border, the sources says India is also looking forward to develop its border areas.

"You can't object to China if it is growing so fast. We need to be growing as fast, rather than blaming China," said the sources.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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