Sikkim standoff: Media must advocate futility of war, not play agent provocateur

A war of words has been building between India and China for almost a month. This has somewhat coincided with the actual border skirmishes between Chinese and Indian forces. The vicious interplay of words and actions on both sides has reached a crescendo, which has had a bearing at the highest level.

China announced on Thursday that it had cancelled the one-on-one meeting between President Xi Ping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, scheduled on the sidelines of the G20 Summit at Hamburg, Germany. India responded by saying that a Modi-Xi meeting was never scheduled; so the question of cancelling it did not arise.

What is noteworthy is that some of the adversarial comments attributed to both the countries have been made in the course of the question-answer sessions by the media, not as original statements.

 Sikkim standoff: Media must advocate futility of war, not play agent provocateur

Representational image. Reuters

It all began when Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat was asked by an Indian news agency last month if the Indian Army was ready for a war should the need arose. General Rawat replied that "Indian Army is fully ready for a two and a half front (China, Pakistan and internal security requirements simultaneously) war."

But it must be noted that the army chief had, in the same interview, said that the prospect of an external war was far-fetched as India had very many diplomatic and other mechanisms to defuse any crisis with another country. In this context, he mentioned Modi's remark that, despite occasional skirmishes, "not a single bullet has been fired on the India-China border" in the last 40 years.

However, during a routine media briefing by the Chinese People's Liberation Army's spokesperson, Colonel Wu Qian, a Chinese media representative asked a question only about Indian general’s comment on two-and-a-half front war capability (without mentioning the other allied statements). Colonel Qian replied that the statement was "extremely irresponsible". He added: "We hope that the Indian Army can learn the lessons of history."

A part of the Indian media pounced on this statement and started hollering that China had reminded India of the consequences of the 1962 India-China war when the Chinese Army had inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Indian Army.

No Indian official publicly responded to the PLA spokesperson's remarks. It was then left to an Indian media representative to ask Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, again during a question-answer session, what he thought about the Chinese assertion that India should learn lessons from the 1962 debacle (China had never said that explicitly).  Jaitley, in a matter of fact style (without any aggressive posture) merely said that India in 2017 is not the same as India in 1962.

Some media representatives then seized on this remark and went about saying that India must be ready to take the revenge of 1962 in 2017. The patriotic fervour played out fuelling the fire of a widening conflagration.

The Chinese state media has been, to a larger extent, acting as an agent provocateur, in the process. On 6 July, it warned a "bullying" New Delhi that if it continued to support Bhutan in stopping the Chinese construction work, then Beijing would be left with no other option but to re-open the issue of Sikkim’s "illegal annexation" by India.

Global Times, a newspaper run by the Communist Party of China said in an editorial: "Although China recognised India's annexation of Sikkim in 2003, it can readjust its stance in the matter. There are those in Sikkim that cherish its history as a separate state."

"Supporting Sikkim’s 'independence' will be a powerful card to deal with New Delhi", the editorial said. It went on to make many more provocative statements, adding that the Sikkim issue has to be revived as "India has to pay for its provocations" and "China must end New Delhi’s regional hegemony which is swelling to a tipping point."

The provocation was not confined to Sikkim alone. The Chinese media also made a move to provoke Bhutan. "India's annexation of Sikkim is like a nightmare haunting Bhutan," it said.

"India has startling control and oppression over Bhutan, and as a result, Bhutan has not established diplomatic ties with its neighbour China or any other permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Through unequal treaties, India has severely jeopardised Bhutan's diplomatic sovereignty and controls its national defence", the editorial said.

"New Delhi’s regional hegemony is boldly shown by the border face-off this time. Using the excuse of 'helping' Bhutan protect its sovereignty, India brazenly obstructs China's road construction in Chinese territory," it added. The editorial went on to invoke China to "lead the international community in restoring Bhutan's diplomatic and defence sovereignty."

It is true that the Chinese officials have not directly made many provocative statements. The Chinese ambassador to India has merely said that the ball was in India's court to defuse the crisis. But there is no gainsaying that the Chinese official media's vituperative remarks against India are a reflection of the sentiment of the Chinese state.

As there are no independent media houses in China, the utterances of the Chinese state media can be seen as an endorsement of the Chinese government. But that is not the case in India which, unlike China, is a democracy where the state media has a very limited role and the larger public opinion is formulated by the private media.

During the current crisis, the Indian state has conducted itself with dignity, with restraint, with great maturity. But some sections of the private media have fallen a prey to, and taken a cue from, the aggressive Chinese media and are spreading ill-will that may reach a point of no return.

There is no gainsaying that neither China nor India, two emerging economic powerhouses, can afford to engage in a full-scale war at this juncture of history. There must be an attempt to defuse the crisis by both sides through diplomatic means.

While both the states battle it out to find a face-saving solution to resolve the conflict, the media should play a more responsible role in creating awareness about the futility of war.

Well, the Chinese media is a caged parrot and it does not have any independent status. It is left to the Indian media to show that only a free media can display responsible behaviour.

Updated Date: Jul 07, 2017 12:23:45 IST