China Ink

Different takeaways

What the Indian and Chinese press said about Wen Jiabao’s state visit in December

From trust deficit…

The Chinese press was full of praise for Premier Wen Jiabao’s three-day trip to India last month, with Xinhua crowing that “[the] Chinese premier [and] Indian prime minister reached broad consensus on a variety of issues.” That included a perennial favourite: the opening of a new telephone hotline between the two countries’ leaders.

Mutual trust was key, thought the China Daily “[The] West often makes an issue of… the so-called China-India competition to sow discord between the Asian giants,” warned academic Fu Xiaoqiang in an editorial for the newspaper. “[But there] is enough space in the world for China and India to pursue greater development through cooperation.

A reader in New Delhi could be forgiven for getting the opposite impression. The Indian press derided the proceedings as “all sound, little substance” (to quote just one of many similar headlines). “Devoid of any commitment on thorny political issues”, wrote Daily News & Analysis columnist Vineeta Pandey, “China evaded any serious political commitment on terrorism emanating from Pakistan, the dam over the river Brahmaputra in China and the boundary dispute.”

…To trade deficit.

The lack of progress on substantive issues didn’t seem to bother the Chinese. “Sensitive issues wisely avoided” was the headline in the Global Times, which argued that increasing trade would make political issues easier to solve. That seems to have echoed Wen’s own thinking – the Chinese leader brought along a trade delegation of 400 CEOs and announced 48 deals worth $16 billion.

Indian commentators were less sanguine about trade prospects. “Please explain to me and my fellow Indians”, asked Indian Today columnist Dhiraj Nayyar, “why, with a $20 billion trade deficit, India needs to give tariff concessions to China?” Investigative magazine Tehelka also pointed out that “extensive curbs” on imports from China were put in place days after Wen’s visit. A Commerce Ministry ‘advisory’ now requires companies to run a “complete credential check” with the Indian embassy before importing from their Chinese counterparts.

The main concern:

The Chinese press highlighted a pro forma commitment to resolve the border dispute through negotiation. Xinhua underlined the agreement “to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas before the issues are fully resolved”. However it didn’t go unnoticed in India that Xinhua and the Global Times used a figure of 2,000km to describe the total border length ahead of the trip (versus the Indian figure of 3,500km).

“India’s real worry is over the nibbling at ‘its territory’”, wrote the Deccan Herald’s Kuldip Nayar.  “The China-advocated policy of keeping the border dispute in cold storage while paying more attention to the economic relations is proving to be detrimental to India”, warned Bahukutumbi Raman, director of the Institute for Topical Studies, a think tank, in Outlook India magazine.


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