Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Three Xinhua Journalists and Sino-Indian Relations

     When the news first broke that three Chinese Xinhua journalists stationed in India had been asked to leave by 31 July 2016 on the non renewal of their visas; the first thought that came to mind was that this was a rather un-usual step, considering that officials had been claiming a steady improvement in the bilateral Sino-Indian relationship. When times are normal, either the visas are renewed for a fresh term on request without much fuss or the agency concerned is quietly told that the host government would welcome a new incumbent. Both states conscious of the importance of their bilateral relationship, would readily accede to either of the options without further ado. That has not happened in this case.
*The Head of the Delhi Bureau of Xinhua, Wu Qiang reportedly told The Hindu that "No explanation had been given to them for denial of visa renewal". Several Indian newspapers have however quoted from informed "sources" that the three journalists were denied visas due to concerns expressed by security agencies. These concerns are not in the public domain.
*Indian newspapers also quote from "sources" that Xinhua was free to replace the three journalists with other fresh incumbents. Thus technically speaking, this cannot be termed as an "expulsion". The Chinese themselves frequently use this method, of non-renewal of visas, to remove recalcitrant journalists whom they feel do not "correctly" reflect the image of China in their writings. The recent case of a New York Times journalist and a Bloomberg journalist comes to mind; when they had dared to write about corruption at the highest leadership levels and about their family members in China.
*Nevertheless the question that still remains is: was this action and the manner in which it was executed against the Xinhua journalists quite necessary? There is no doubt that this is bound to reverberate in the larger context of Sino-Indian relations.
*The BRICS summit is due to be held in Goa from 15-16 October 2016 as announced by EAM and as indicated by her, India has laid out an ambitious program of activities at the Ministerial, Official and Technical levels throughout the period when the Chairmanship is held by India.
*Of the five BRICS countries, both South Africa and Brazil are in political and economic shambles with the leadership facing severe corruption charges. The Brazilian President has had to step down; the South African barely survived. That just leaves President Putin and President Xi Jinping of China.
*The involvement of President Xi Jinping is crucial for the success of the Summit as China plays a major role.
*PM Modi is due to attend the G-20 Summit in China in September 2016.
*Thus two very important high level encounters are due shortly between India and China at the summit level, where the entire gamut of the bilateral relationship would be under discussion.
* The question is: was this distraction of asking the three Xinhua journalists to leave at this critical juncture quite necessary? What if the Chinese take this action rather badly and retaliate by asking three Indian journalists to leave China? These actions would dominate the air waves for a long time.
*It would have been far more prudent, if JS [XP] in the Ministry of External Affairs had been tasked to quietly summon the Head of the Information Department of the Chinese Embassy in Delhi and request him to withdraw the offending journalists from the official state agency, Xinhua from India.
*None of this should have been allowed to come out in the public domain. Both sides could easily have come to an understanding on this issue before any action was initiated.


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