India-China Relations

Expelling Each Other’s Journalists


Only a few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal had reported that China and India have effectively kicked out a large number of each other's journalists by refusing to renew their visas. The Indian media initially cited that report, and there was no independent coverage.

According to a report in Bloomberg, KJM Varma, a reporter with PTI was asked to leave China by the end of June. “With this, China will not have a single Indian journalist reporting from the country, down from four. The other three journalists–from Hindustan Times, The Hindu, and Prasar Bharati–were either asked to leave the country or their visa renewal applications were denied,” wrote Aadil Brar, who was earlier a China media journalist at the BBC: “The expulsion of Indian journalists from Beijing has left Indian media organisations in a blind state. With the latest spat, the rift between India and China is as wide now as the vast expanse of the Himalayas. A bridge, for now, has been burnt.”

Former ambassador to China and former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao tweeted: “This is the worst time I’ve seen in my living memory in India-China relations. And I’m not exaggerating. It’s serious.” Indian journalists were present in Beijing even during the 1962 war.

Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in an official statement. “Chinese journalists in India have no difficulties in reporting. However, Indian journalists in China have been operating with difficulties–such as not being permitted to hire locals as correspondents or journalists.

Negating claims (including of discrimination) implied by MEA, Anurag Viswanath, a Singapore -based Sinologist, noted: China’s “restrictions on hiring locals appear universally applicable to all foreign organisations. It is incumbent on Chinese State media journalists being granted visas and is linked to the overall health of bilateral relations.”

There were comments linking India’s steps to China’s ‘aggressive’ behaviour, as seen ever since Galwan 2020, but facts are otherwise. Anurag Vishwanath wrote citing Hu, “the downward spiral began in 2016, and became exacerbated in 2020.” India has not approved visas since 2020, leading to a drop from 14 journalists to one.” Indian public will miss ground realities, will depend on “Anglo-Saxon narrative,” she said, as the Indian journalists “will lack immersive experience”, and they “miss experiencing China’s legendary hospitality.” “Indian insight will be a sore gap.”, Jun 11, 2023, reported it was indeed a case of Tit-for-tat expulsions: “Beijing’s revocation in recent months of the accreditations of three Indian correspondents and decision to freeze the visas of two, effectively barring them from returning to China to work, comes in retaliation to Delhi’s measures against Chinese state media journalists. China has also reportedly threatened counter-measures against the last Indian accredited reporter in Beijing if the visa of the last Chinese correspondent in India is not renewed.” China is reportedly demanding that India must provide Chinese journalists year-long visas instead of the three-month permits they had been receiving.

The background with relevant facts, as given by China, is given below. “Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular news conference in Beijing on May 31, it was New Delhi that started the trend, leaving the Chinese side with no choice but to reciprocate…’’ It remains unclear how that will benefit India, and what New Delhi intends to do to end the deadlock. “Chinese journalists have suffered unfair and discriminatory treatment in India for a long time now.

“In 2017, the Indian side shortened the validity of visas held by Chinese journalists in India to three months, or even one month, without giving any valid reason. Since 2020, the Indian side has refused to review and approve Chinese journalists’ applications to be stationed in India. As a result, the number of Chinese journalists stationed in India has plummeted from 14 in normal times to just one now.” The report said that a journalist of the China Global Television Network stationed in India had been asked, “without any explanation”, by New Delhi in 2020 to leave the country within ten days although his visa was still valid for two more months. “As of May 31, 2023 the Indian side had not renewed the visa of the last Chinese journalist in the country. The number of Chinese journalists stationed in India is therefore about to drop to zero.”

What India stands to lose from journalists being expelled from China: “..the understanding Indians have of their enormous neighbour stands to be impaired, say Indian correspondents who have previously reported from China. The absence of Indian journalists in China will deprive Indian audiences of an Indian perspective on Beijing’s view of the simmering border conflict as well as developments in the world’s second-largest economy. “Not having Indian reporters in China’’ may lead to misconceptions as we’ll be relying more on imagination”, said Atul Aneja, who reported from China for The Hindu between 2014 and 2020. “The hostility will increase if we don’t get the exact picture. It’s important to have our eyes on the ground.” Sowmiya Ashok, a former Beijing correspondent for The Indian Express, added that “having boots on the ground...feeds into both public perception and effective diplomacy”.

This view is shared on the other side of the border too. “The presence of more journalists from China in India would help to bridge the gap between the two countries and foster a deeper understanding of each other’s cultures and perspectives,” Wang Zichen, a former reporter at China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua, told the Wall Street Journal: “This, in turn, could lead to a reduction in hostility and a more peaceful resolution to the border dispute.” That is exactly what USA and the west do not want.

New Delhi, however, dismissed the allegation and urged Beijing to continue to facilitate journalists from India so that they could continue to stay in and report from China. Indians should however note this: Washington also imposed restrictions on Chinese news outlets, forcing Chinese journalists out of the United States. However, unlike the situation between India and China, a large pool of American and Chinese correspondents had been allowed to stay back in Beijing and Washington.

China Daily pointedly asked: “There are more Indian journalists working in China than vice versa. Although Beijing is not interested in a tit-for-tat game, it has more cards than New Delhi to play in the farce that India has started. Or does it (India) want the two neighbours not to have any correspondents stationed in each other's country, leaving the job of telling Indian and Chinese stories to Western media outlets?...”

A case worth recalling is Tiananmen Square incidents, 1989. They are a classic example wherein foreign media claimed that Chinese troops had fired into the crowds with several hundred casualties, admittedly a false claim, that was sold for decades. Vijay Gokhale, then a young diplomat serving in Beijing, and later India’s Foreign Secretary was a direct witness to the drama that unfolded there. He wrote 30 years later the book, Tiananmen Square: The Making of a Protest–A Diplomat Looks Back (2021 May) :

“...My personal experience during those 50 days was that a lot of the western media fed off each other and fed off the students in the square, without actually cross-checking their information… Or that their sources were questionable. For me that was a revelation. That is why I felt I needed to bring out that the Chinese side is hiding some facts but also that the western media was giving its own slant to the whole thing.” Gokhale provided “a fascinating insight on the hypocrisy of the Western media as they went about indulging in brazen speculation and rumour mongering thereby making an absolute and capital mockery of journalistic ethics.” (He mentioned he had reported this to GOI at that time also, now in public.)

Today distorted news by Western media about China is a daily spectacle, spreading lies and hatred, promoting war-like atmosphere, and harming peace. India will have to depend on such media.

But this development shows the media relations are worse today, and that at a time Indian Business has a very high,an unprecedented level of, bilateral trade with China, at $ 135 billion in 2022, up 8 percent from $ 125 billion in 2021. Trade with China has a very high import content, despite Modi-led BJP’s call Boycott Chinese goods, meant for public consumption: India’s trade deficit is now around $ 100 billion. Indian Businesses want to import cheaper components and other inputs from China that go into their products, meant also to be exported. They want people to boycott, thus forego, Chinese goods available at economic rates, so that they and MNCs grab Indian market and make enormous profits. That is ‘Swadeshi’ meant to cater to their market interests. Yes to business, No to exchange of news, with China?

Modi in USA said: “democracy is in our DNA. Democracy is our spirit. Democracy runs in our veins. We live democracy.” President Biden agreed: ...‘‘The whole world has a stake in our success, both of us in maintaining our democracies … makes us affiliate partners and enables us to expand democratic institutions across … the world.” If that were so, why this blockade of media? Is this the purpose of democracy, in the eyes of ‘democratic allies’ USA and India? Is this multi-polarity India claims?

The ‘free press’ for India means relying on Anglo-Saxon media regarding China. That’s what the USA desires.

China stressed that “China is still willing to maintain communication with India under the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. It is to be hoped that India will reciprocate by responding to China's legitimate concerns, and take concrete steps as soon as possible to create favourable conditions for restoring normal exchanges between the media organisations of the two countries.” (2023 June 2 China Daily.)

“Amid reports that China has expelled most Indian journalists, the Indian government said it’s in touch with Beijing on the issue and expressed hope that Chinese authorities will facilitate the continued presence of Indian journalists working and reporting from China.” That was a report by Times of India, TNN / Jun 3, 2023.

Now it is four weeks since the reports appeared. Modi is busy selling Indian democracy in USA, making claims of Atmanirbhar bharat in defence too, of course subordinating India to America’s Asia-Pacific strategy. India has not come out if it wants an independent media, particularly in relation to China. No Atmanirbhar bharat (self-reliant) media? Reporting China is being outsourced to the biased western media, full of venom and disinformation towards China. It is not in the interest of Indian people and of peace.

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Vol 56, No. 3, Jul 16 - 22, 2023