Even as an unprecedented meeting of three-star generals of Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army of China is scheduled for Saturday, following a standoff between armies of the two nations in Ladakh, the continued tensions have found little newsprint in the -language media in China — whatever space India has found, the Chinese media’s underlying message has been to warn New Delhi against getting to close to the United States.
Chinese Foreign Ministry repeated its stand on the issue on Friday, reiterations that “the overall situation in the China-India border areas is stable and controllable” and that there are “sound mechanisms for border-related matters”. It said that the two sides “maintain close communication through diplomatic and military channels and are working to properly resolve relevant issues”.
An analysis of editorials and opinion pieces of China Daily, the largest English newspaper in the country, and People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, shows that between them just one editorial has been published since May 5, when fistfights between Indian and Chinese troops later snowballed into a face-offs at multiple locations in the region. Between both newspapers, no opinion pieces have been published on the issue.
The only editorial was published in China Daily on Thursday, and asked for the two sides to keep their “nationalist sentiment in check” to resolve the problem. Titled “Border test for amity of neighbors”, it stated that jingoism will complicate the process of finding a solution, as both sides know “an escalation of tensions will serve neither side any good”. The newspaper warned against any US intervention, stating that some people in India have been “emboldened to take a tougher stand” after the US President Donald Trump offered to “help”.
Global Times, a tabloid closely aligned with the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology, has devoted more space to the tension. The paper has not carried an editorial, but had more than half-a-dozen opinion pieces on the issue since May 5.
Most articles about the crisis bring up the US and caution New Delhi to not align with Washington, or intervene in the US-China rivalry.
The latest article, published on Friday, stated that “India plays with fire spicing up G7 expansion”. The positive response from India to Trump’s proposal to expand G7, it said, is “not surprising” given India’s “big power ambition”. But it warned that “if India hastily joins a small circle that perceives China as an imaginary enemy,” its relations with China will deteriorate, as G7 expansion “carries geopolitical calculations with an obvious attempt to contain China”.
It wrote: “This is not in India’s interests. The current bilateral relations have already been on a downward trend.”
One of the first reports on the standoff, in Global Times on May 18, accused India of building infrastructure in Chinese territory in Galwan Valley. “Chinese border defense troops have bolstered border control measures and made necessary moves in response to India’s recent, illegal construction of defense facilities across the border into Chinese territory in the Galwan Valley region.” It said that the tension will “not lead to another ‘Doklam Standoff’,” as it said it was done by India to divert attention from handling of the COVID-19 pandemic response.
On May 31, it reported that after Doklam standoff, Chinese military has expanded its “high-altitude arsenal to address border threat”.
The same day it published an article, which stated that it was “advisable for India to not engage in US-China confrontation”. It said that as some predict a new Cold War, “India needs to be careful about being involved in the US-China rivalry”. Mentioning Trump’s offer to mediate, it said, “India needs to be careful not to include the US factor in its handling of any problem in its relations with China, otherwise it will only complicate the issue”. It said that if India “leans toward the US or becomes a US pawn attacking China”, India-China economic ties will “suffer a devastating blow,” which will be “too much for the Indian economy to take such a hit at the current stage”.
In another article on May 25, it asked India to “eschew Western views of China for border piece” and said that “unlike previous standoffs, the latest border friction was not caused by accident, but was a planned move of New Delhi”. Defending China’s handling of COVID-19, it said, “the current international situation is not in favor of India to take advantage of China”.
In more opinion pieces it has asked Indian media “to shake off west’s influence,” not needed US help to solve the issue, and warning India of the “extreme anti-China sentiment spreading to sci-tech areas”. The last was a reaction after many Indians had started removing Chinese apps from their phones.
Lt General S L Narasimhan (retd), member of the National Security Advisory Board and a China expert, said, “By and large in these face-offs China does not go to the media, Doklam was a departure…because China has always complained that our media overplays things. During Doklam, Chinese media went to town first, but they hyped it so much that it took them time to bring it down”.
This time, Narasimhan added, “barring Global Times, there is hardly any coverage and the foreign ministry and defence ministry in China have said we (Beijing) have mechanisms and want to have a peaceful border”.
Experts Explain: What triggered China’s recent LAC moves?
One the warning against looking towards the US, Narasimhan said, “US-China relations are sub-optimal at the moment and therefore they (Beijing) feel India has been moving towards the US starting 2005 with the Defence Cooperation Agreement and subsequent agreements.” He said this is why “you find articles in Chinese media cautioning us from moving closer to the US”.
In a similar assessment, Zorawar Daulet Singh, adjunct fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies, said that “during Doklam, China was caught off guard and sought to reverse India’s intervention through its aggressive media discourse as military escalation had been ruled out”. In the current situation, he said, the Chinese media has been “largely silent because the ball is in India’s court”, as New Delhi seeks to “reverse the PLA’s surprise moves in eastern Ladakh”.
He said the “occasional rhetoric from Global Times is aimed to dissuade India from choosing a hasty response, but there is little in those reports to give us an authentic insight into Chinese motivations beyond what we know from official statements.”
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