Gullible innocents, or willing propagandists?
The publication of pro-China articles by the India media raises two questions: First, why are Indian journalists propagating stories planted by Beijing? Second, can the Chinese be trusted even after they have signed a deal?
In 2003, the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Communist Party of China approved a ‘guiding conceptual umbrella’ for information operations of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It was called the ‘Three Warfares’. It was based on three strategies or ‘Warfares’, each mutually reinforcing the two others: (1) the coordinated use of strategic psychological operations; (2) overt and covert media manipulation; and (3) legal warfare designed to manipulate strategies, defence policies, and perceptions of target audiences abroad.
Not only has the PLA started implementing these strategies, but the other arms of the Communist Party have also swung into action. This came to my mind when I read an article entitled, ‘China ready to cede land for part of Arunachal Pradesh?’ in one of the Indian mainstream newspapers.
The article mentions, “An exchange of land, with the politically and strategically sensitive Tawang tract in Arunachal Pradesh being ceded by India.” This could pave the way for a settlement of the India-China boundary dispute, according to Dai Bingguo, who has been one of the senior-most Chinese diplomats under the President Hu Jintao.
Why did Dai Bingguo plant this story in the credulous Indian Press? Let us remember that the same Dai was instrumental in drafting the Agreement between India and China ‘On the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question’, which was signed on April 11, 2005, in New Delhi.
Dai was then the Special Representative for the border negotiations with India, as well as the powerful Secretary-General of the Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group. Today, Dai (and his handlers in Beijing) seem to be ignoring the spirit of the 2005 negotiations with its obvious reference to Tawang.
According to Article VII of the Agreement: “In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.” It clearly meant that Tawang area, which is heavily populated, would not be ceded or exchanged. This was agreed by both parties.
Now Beijing would like Delhi to ‘return’ Tawang; they would generously compensate by some territory in Arunachal which has never been China’s (be sure, Beijing would not give back the Aksai Chin, being a too strategic link between Tibet and Xinjiang).
The question is: How can Indian journalists repeat, without even giving the historical background, such a non-sensical proposal. The answer is that they are not even bothered enough to study the Indian position on this issue.
This unnecessary controversy tends to show that Beijing is today able to get any ‘propaganda’ article published in the Indian Press; the Indian media just bites at any news coming from Beijing, who may be surprised that ‘overt and covert media manipulation’ is easy in India.
Exchanging Tawang for some Chinese ‘possessions’ has never been on the cards. Hundreds of pages of the transcript of the talks between Zhou Enlai with different Indian leaders in April 1960, show that there has never been any question to ‘return’ Tawang to China.
During his 1960 stay in India, the Chinese Premier had some 17 hours of discussions with Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister; at no point in time was ‘ceding’ Tawang envisaged, though the Chinese side hinted at a swap of the entire NEFA (today Arunachal) against the Aksai Chin plateau, on which the PLA had built a road in the mid-1950s.
Only the transcript of the talks between Zhou and VK Krishna Menon, India’s Defence Minister, is still unavailable. It is still classified. Why? Nobody knows. Even though the arrogant friend of Nehru was enamoured of communist China, it is doubtful, that he would have dared ‘giving’ Tawang. In any case, he had no authority in the matter.
Why is Dai raking up the issue now? For different reasons: Following the not-so-successful Sino-Indian Strategic Dialogue recently held in Beijing and co-chaired by Zhang Yesui, the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister and S Jaishankar, the Indian Foreign Secretary, The Global Times commented in a paternalistic tone: “One lesson India may learn from China is to be honest with oneself. Asymmetry in economic and geopolitical power is natural for any bilateral relations.”
This derogatory remark was probably triggered by India’s firm stand on Masood Azhar, the Pathankot terror attack mastermind, who according to Beijing, does not qualify to be listed as a ‘terrorist’ by the UN and also India’s insistence that it is entitled to a seat in the Nuclear Supplier Group. As far as propaganda and influence on the other side’s Press is concerned, there is undoubtedly a great ‘asymmetry’ in China’s favour.
There is another issue which has bothered China; it is the forthcoming visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang. Time and again India has said that the Dalai Lama is an honoured guest in India and he is free to go wherever he wants.
Incidentally, though Beijing today claims Tawang area as Chinese, why did the PLA not follow the Tibetan leader into India when he crossed the McMahon Line in Khenzimane, north of Tawang, on March 31, 1959? If China had considered the area to be a part of its territory, the PLA should have followed the Dalai Lama. But the claim on Tawang is clearly an afterthought, all the historical documents that I accessed, proved this.
Yet another issue makes China nervous; it is the Two Sessions (the meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) which have recently opened in Beijing. For the present leadership, a lot is at stake with five out seven members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee retiring before the year end. Bringing up the border issue with India at this point in time is a clever diversion from China’s severe internal problems.
However, the publication of these pro-China articles (without any historical background and scoopy titles) raises two serious questions: First, why are some Indian journalists propagating stories obviously planted by Beijing? Second, can the Chinese be trusted even after they have signed an agreement?
Regarding the first question, the time has come for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Defence Ministry and the Ministry for Home Affairs, etc to conduct classes/courses for senior editors and journalists on the historical background of the border ‘dispute’ with China as well as other similar contentious issues.
At the end of the 1950s and beginning 1960s, 14 White Papers on China were published. It had a tremendous pedagogical impact; the MEA should again start publishing White Papers on intricate diplomatic issues and widely distribute the information to the public. Can a sense of ‘national interests’ be inculcated into the Indian media? It is a tall order; money and ‘historical’ shortcuts are more important today. As for the second question, it is difficult to trust China as long as it behaves in this manner. The fact remains that India has lost the first battle of information.
(The writer is an expert on India-China relations and an author)
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