Media can bring China, India closer

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Chinese President Xi Jinping with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, in September 2016. Reuters

Over the last year or so, relations between China and India have witnessed significant progress. The hallmark sign of the warm and friendly ties was the informal summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Wuhan in April.

Also, the successful conclusion of the “Hand in Hand 2018” China-India counterterrorism military exercise earlier this month indicated the substantially improved military ties in the wake of what had taken place in 2017 in Donglang – known in India as Doklam.

It is safe to say that at the governmental level, China-India relations look promising. But if we take a closer look at what the media in both countries have painted, we get a strong perception – or misperception, I would say – of bilateral relations leaving a lot to be desired.

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My observation is that media in both countries have left or created big room for improvement while trying to cover news related to India and China.

Although we are in the age of the internet, the majority of the public in both China and India rely heavily on domestic media to learn about each other. The language barrier is one important issue, among others. Few people would bother to get information about the other country from media in that country. This means what they learn about the other country is from what has been portrayed by the media of their nation.

If we ask ordinary Chinese what they know about India, most probably than not, they would say that Indians are good at singing and dancing and Indian food is largely curry. What else? What more can most educated Chinese think of India when the name India is mentioned? Well, maybe the territorial disputes, especially the one in Donglang, the 1962 border war, and the Dalai Lama and his followers in Dharamshala, to name just a few.

Also in the past decade, we noticed that some Indian media outlets have been churning out negative stories about China, sneering at China for the so-called lack of democracy and freedom, hyping up the so-called China threat and pushing the Indian government to take action on the South China Sea issue, ignorant of the fact that India is far away from the South China Sea both geographically and politically.

Is there anything else that Chinese and Indians should know about each other? The answer is definitely yes. Unfortunately, more much-needed information is missing in our media. In some extreme cases, the media has helped create misunderstanding among their audience rather than promote mutual understanding.

Of course, I don’t mean to just criticize some Indian media outlets for what they have done in their coverage of China. Chinese media also have their own problems in covering India.

My focus will be on the solution. How to get rid of the misconceptions about India and China that have existed for quite a long time among the public of the two countries? There are so many things that could be done. Among others, media in the two countries can do a lot to promote two-way understanding by providing true, balanced coverage of events taking place in China as well as in India. This is a matter of will rather than capability.

My understanding of the role that media can play in promoting closer bilateral relations and partnership goes as follows:

First, media is to inform, influence and entertain. Media outlets from both countries can be the eyes and ears of their target audience and they have to provide accurate, comprehensive and well-rounded images of China and India. The audiences from both countries deserve to be better informed.

Second, media can act as a window to showcase a real China or a real India to their audience. The extreme end of a spectrum, on whichever side, is obviously less colorful. Both India and China have millenniums-old civilizations, diversified cultures, wonderful vistas as well as fast-paced economic development; and China-India relations are not all about politics.

Third, media can act as a bridge to link ordinary people together by having more reports about their daily lives. Culture, especially popular culture such as movies, will serve this end much better. My earliest knowledge of India came from two Indian movies I saw in the late 1970s – namely Awara and Caravan. The two films showed me a totally different world from what we saw in movies from China’s other communist partners. Even today, Indian movie Dangal was among the most successful imported films on the Chinese mainland. Such affinity will make people feel they are much closer.

Fourth, journalists from both countries should have more extensive contacts and frequent exchange of views and ideas. Seeing is believing is true for the watchful eyes of news reporters. My recent trip to India serves as a wonderful example. What I saw, heard and sensed during our one-week trip to the southern city of Bangalore and the capital New Delhi have given me new insights into India, and this will definitely help in my future reporting and commenting.

Fifth, as mainstream Chinese media outlets usually don’t have sufficient reporters stationed in India, we have to extensively use wire services when we need English language news reports and comments about India. At least this is the case with my newspaper. Most often than not, we find these stories not necessarily written from the Indian perspective, nor are they done from the Chinese perspective. Media outlets from China and India should try to set up a mechanism or platform to exchange and share stories about each other so we can have the firsthand information and opinion we need in our coverage of the other country. This is especially feasible for the English language media in the two countries.

China and India are bound by geography, which is an unchangeable reality. As two major regional powers in Asia, we should be good neighbors, good friends and good partners, almost anything but adversaries. We should understand and respect each other more.

President Xi said the Chinese “dragon” and the Indian “elephant” should join each other in a duet, not in a duel. Prime Minister Modi said when India and China work together, 1 plus 1 is not 2 but 11. We couldn’t find better examples than these.

It is the responsibility of the Chinese and Indian media to make efforts to facilitate the realization of these scenarios. Let us just do it, and let us do it better.

Chen Ping is deputy executive editor of Global Times. This is an excerpt from a speech he delivered at the India-China High Level Media Forum held in New Delhi, India, on December 21. This comment first appeared in Global Times.

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