India, China agree to set up a media forum to address misconceptions

In the joint statement issued in New Delhi on Tuesday after talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, India and China acknowledged the increasingly influential role played by media in both countries in driving the relations.

Both countries, the statement said, had agreed to set up a “High-Level Media Forum” to enhance media exchanges. The idea behind the forum, Indian and Chinese officials say, is to try and address misperceptions.

While Indian officials have, in the past, complained about often hypernationalistic Chinese media outlets — such as the Communist Party-run Global Times, a popular tabloid — their Chinese counterparts routinely blame Indian media for carrying inaccurate reports which, they say, exaggerate problems.

On Monday, several Chinese State media commentaries issued to coincide with Mr. Li’s visit argued that public diplomacy was one of the biggest challenges facing the relationship, whether in dealing with the boundary dispute or addressing “ill-conceived preconceptions” in both countries.

“[The border] is a complex issue, and it will be difficult to resolve, especially in the spotlight of public nationalism in both countries,” argued Hua Junduo, a former Ambassador to India, in a commentary published in the official China Daily.

The Global Times, too, struck an unusually sober tone — perhaps to coincide with the Premier’s visit — in an editorial on Monday, acknowledging that “ill-conceived preconceptions” in China had led to a lack of understanding about India. It said China needed to do more to boost ties with India, including in terms of public diplomacy initiatives.

“Chinese people lack understanding and respect toward India. They tend to judge it according to ill-conceived preconceptions,” the editorial said.

“Previously, China’s efforts to promote ties with India were less obvious than the U.S… However,” the newspaper said, “China’s surrounding environment will suffer if India, a country which has the prospect of running neck-and-neck with China, becomes another Japan or Philippines in terms of its policies toward China.”

The newspaper called on both governments to “bear the primary responsibility” of improving ties “to counter media hype.”

“Grumbling about media coverage,” it concluded, “doesn’t help.”