After India’s expulsion of three Chinese journalists following adverse intelligence reports about them, opinion is divided over whether the incident would affect the existing mechanism of bilateral interactions between journalists of the two countries. But there is agreement that such interactions should not be discontinued.
At present, the “India-China Media Forum” is the only existing platform jointly established by China’s State Council Information Office and India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to “enhance bilateral media exchanges”. The first edition of the Forum was held in New Delhi in 2013, while the second was held in Beijing in 2015. At the second India-China Media Forum held in Beijing on 1 February 2015, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had said, among other things: “The Media Forum was envisaged as a platform to encourage appreciation and build understanding of each other’s societies in our respective media.”
On whether India should discontinue the Forum initiative and any other such venture, Rajeev Sharma, a Delhi-based strategic affairs expert who has attended both the editions of the Forum, told The Sunday Guardian, “Not at all. By doing so, India would appear to be the aggressor, whereas in this case, it’s the Chinese who have been the aggressors. What the Chinese journalists have done is espionage by other means. It’s common knowledge that China uses all its expatriates in foreign countries as an extension of their intelligence apparatus. Why should India look like someone who is throttling a healthy engagement between the two countries’ media outfits, though Beijing may be attempting to do as much covertly? India’s motto should be: trust, but verify. India should continue to have an open-door policy for Chinese journalists, while being doubly cautious of them.”
About state-run Chinese daily Global Times’ warning of “serious consequences”, Sharma said, “It implies that Indian journalists based in China—and there are at least eight of them—would face the heat. Expect greater surveillance on them and deliberate provocations from the Chinese side with respect to them, even if they are doing nothing illegal.”
Manish Chand, editor-in-chief of India Writes, who also participated in both the editions of the Forum, told The Sunday Guardian, “The Indian government’s decision not to extend visas for three Chinese journalists of Xinhua (which has been portrayed as their expulsion from India) is context-specific.
There is no official statement on why these Chinese journalists have been asked to leave, but reports suggest that it was due to their alleged un-journalistic activities (a euphemism for spying). We don’t know what the facts in this case are. However, the Indian government has also made it clear that Xinhua is welcome to send other journalists. So, it would appear this does not amount to unfriendly/hostile attitude towards Chinese journalists being posted in India.”
Sharma said, “It (the Forum) is a unique initiative at the level of media between India and China, and India does not have this kind of engagement with very many countries.
It will have an impact on the third edition of India-China Media Forum as and when it is held. No dates have been finalised yet. I will attend the third edition, if invited.”