Does the Indian media overplay Indo-Chinese tension?
New Delhi’s flat-out denial of the most recent reports by state authorities of Chinese military incursions across its border with India in Jammu and Kashmir may show a tendency to gloss over such seemingly insignificant events — in favour of bigger strategic and trade interests — that the media appears to ignore.
On Monday afternoon, amidst a lull in the seemingly endless Indian news cycle, all major TV news channels flashed a breaking story of Chinese troops crossing the Indian border in the disputed northern state.
Local news providers in the state declared fears of a “hotting-up of the border”, and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah was moved to issue fiery rhetoric and even threats of retaliation, which the mainstream media duly published.
Despite the reported incursions taking place in September of last year, the story rapidly found its way to the top of the headline pile, and in the apparent context of a disputed border between unstable bedfellows armed with nuclear weapons, several international newswires even jumped on the reports.
Back in New Delhi, however, India’s ministry of external affairs described the media reports as “baseless”, rubbishing claims from state authorities, and re-printed by news organisations that Indian workers were “threatened” by Chinese troops.
Chief of the Army Staff General V.K. Singh even went as far to defend Chinese troops involved in the alleged border crossings, saying that the local residents on the Indian side of the border were to blame for ignoring government advice over ceasing construction projects. Chinese officials made no remarks on the issue.
Reports of so-called incursions are nothing new, and a high-pitched domestic media debate that routinely raises fears of increased Chinese influence on Indian territory only further muddles a murky and ambiguous history of boots purposefully, or not, crossing borders.
Analysts suggest that with superior manpower numbers and infrastructure developments on the Chinese side, it is only natural for random – and perhaps mistaken – incursions to occur across a border that is at best disputed and at worst unknown.
Diplomatic sparring between the two Asian giants, which reached a recent crescendo with the denial of a visa to an Indian Army General by Chinese authorities in August, and so often centres on border disputes, has calmed in recent months and a cordial – if also uneasy – friendship was offered during the visit of Premier Wen Jiabao to New Delhi last month.
In dealing with Monday’s reports, New Delhi left little to the imagination in its strong down-playing of any tension-fuelling allegations, appearing to see little gain in stirring a decades-old pot as it seeks to build on strategic co-operation, increase bilateral trade and work to address the growing trade balance across the border.
Perhaps with India’s government appearing to show a more mature approach to molehills and mountains, it’s time for the media to follow suit.