Journalists Become Latest Casualties of China-India Rivalry

China and India’s geopolitical rivalry has reached a nadir, with both countries all but barring the other’s journalists from working in their respective territories. Inflamed by an ongoing military conflict along the China-India border, the journalism spat reflects politically-motivated intolerance of foreign press rationalized on the grounds of national security. Keith Zhai from The Wall Street Journal first reported on China and India’s mutual expulsion of journalists:

New Delhi denied visa renewals this month to the last two remaining Chinese state media journalists in the country, from state-run Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television, according to people familiar with the matter.

Indian media outlets had four remaining journalists based in China at the beginning of the year. At least two of them haven’t been granted visas to return to the country, a Chinese official said. A third was told this month that his accreditation had been revoked but he remains in the country, people familiar with the matter said.

[…] The last two remaining Chinese state media journalists have departed [India] following the expiration of their visas, according to people familiar with the matter. There are now no remaining Chinese state media reporters in India, some of them said, likely for the first time since at least the 1980s. [Source]

Reuters later reported that the Chinese government defended its actions, describing them as “appropriate countermeasures”:

“What I can tell you is that for a long time, Chinese journalists have suffered unfair and discriminatory treatment in India, and in 2017, the Indian side shortened the visa validity of Chinese journalists to three months or even one month for no reason,” the spokesperson, Mao Ning, told a briefing.

The visa of the last Chinese correspondent in India had expired, she said.

“In the face of this prolonged and unreasonable suppression by the Indian side, the Chinese side had to take appropriate countermeasures to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese media,” Mao said.

[…] “Some Indian journalists have been working and living in China for more than 10 years, and we are willing to continue to (facilitate them), but it depends on whether the Indian side can meet China halfway and provide the same facilitation and assistance to Chinese journalists in India,” Mao said. [Source]

Ananth Krishnan, a Beijing-based correspondent for India’s The Hindu, was one of two Indian journalists denied reentry to China in April following their trip back to India. On Wednesday, Krishnan tweeted, “We’re down to only one accredited Indian reporter in Beijing — and unfortunately, probably zero soon.” On Thursday, he reported in The Hindu that the Indian government had reduced the visa period for Chinese journalists to three months in response to “non-journalistic activities” by some Chinese state-media reporters in India, as well as incidents of Chinese journalists reporting from Tibetan regions in India without having applied for the proper permits. According to the Hindustan Times, as of 2016, the number of Chinese journalists in India (all of whom worked for state-run media organizations) had reached a high of 14. On Wednesday, Shashi Shekhar Vempati, the former CEO of India’s public broadcaster Prasar Bharati, tweeted: “Over my years at the helm of India’s Public Broadcaster [I] have observed that CGTN’s provocative coverage of India had no red lines while even the slightest mention of Taiwan by DD News would elicit advisories from the Chinese embassy.”

Chinese state media, conversely,  accused the Indian side of starting the feud. The Global Times wrote, “The Indian side’s move is an obvious provocation. India has repeatedly denied visas to Chinese journalists for no reason, but accused China of ‘freezing’ visas for Indian journalists.” A headline in China Daily read: “India’s bias against Chinese media decried.” Another Global Times article was titled “Chinese FM slams India for ill treatment of Chinese journalists” and claimed that “India deliberately sabotage[s] relations.” The typically inactive comment section under this article contained numerous entries, from users whose names were strings of random numbers and letters, channeling both anti-China and anti-India criticism. One commenter who purported to be from India wrote that they were “ashamed” of India’s actions, argued that “China is acting with a lot of self-restraint,” and suggested that India “should apologize to the China leadership and give long term visas to all Chinese journalists as part of Freedom of Press.”

Whether or not Chinese state-media editors curated these comments, it is clear that Chinese government officials are trying to curate China’s image for the Indian public. On Tuesday, Liu Jinsong, head of the foreign ministry’s Asian Affairs Department, met with three Indian journalists visiting China and called for more “[people-to-people] exchanges that promote mutual understanding.” The government has previously run short-term training programs, hosted by Xinhua, for journalists from India and dozens of other countries, in part to “narrate more and better stories” about BRICS cooperation and China’s models of development, governance, and media.

Both China and India have dismal records of press freedom. In its 2023 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranks India 161st out of 180 countries and China 179th. In January, the Indian government invoked emergency laws to ban a BBC documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and later raided the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and seized its journalists’ phones. In March of 2020, China expelled over a dozen American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, and in September, two Australian journalists were forced to flee China to avoid arbitrary detention. China is once again the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.

The journalist tit-for-tat is the latest development in a brewing geopolitical rivalry between the two most populous countries in the world. Central to the conflict is an ongoing military confrontation along their border in the Himalayas, which has been the site of deadly clashes since 2020. Lin Minwang, a researcher at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, recently described the standoff as a “new normal”: “The border contest between China and India in the Himalayas will evolve into a long-term stalemate.” On Wednesday, Nishant Rajeev and Alex Stephenson from the U.S. Institute of Peace warned that China and India’s long-standing border tensions risk a dangerous escalation that might require a diplomatic intervention from the international community

The December 2022 clash between Chinese and Indian troops along the two countries’ 2,100-mile-long contested border — known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — highlights a worrying “one step forward, two steps back” trend. This brawl was the worst since 2020, when fighting in the Galwan Valley took the lives of 20 Indian and at least four Chinese soldiers. Although these clashes are often followed by dialogue and other steps to reduce tensions, both sides have increasingly militarized their border policies and shown no indication of backing down. And the situation on the border remains tense, as Beijing and New Delhi are hardening their positions on either side of the LAC, with the potential for escalation between the two nuclear-armed powers.

Tensions over the border dispute are a particular cause for concern given the overall trajectory of the Sino-Indian relationship, which has soured significantly in recent years. If Beijing and New Delhi are to resolve these long-standing disputes, they have several challenges to face, many of which were only exacerbated by these recent clashes. These include militarization of the border, India’s increasingly assertive foreign policy and growing threats to regional strategic stability. [Source]


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