Public Diplomacy Public Diplomacy

Foreign Secretary’s speech at the conclusion of India-China Media Forum (September 16, 2013)

September 16, 2013

Honourable External Affairs Minister
H.E.Vice Minister Zhou Mingwei
Distinguished friends from the Indian media

And honoured guests from the Chinese media who have travelled to New Delhi to be with us for this inaugural meeting of the India-China Media Forum.

As a well-known Chinese proverb goes "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a small step.” From what I have heard from my colleagues the vibrant, robust and productive discussions earlier today at the India-China Media Forum have set in motion the beginning of an exciting and multi-pronged conversation between opinion leaders from media organisations of our two countries.

This is only to be expected as it is estimated that the total number of registered media publications in both our countries taken together is more than 100,000. The total number of TV channels exceed more than 1000. And, the number of those who are using the social media from both our countries taken together are in the hundreds of millions. Yet today cumulatively there are little more than a dozen news organisations from India and China with correspondents reporting on news about each other. So we have a dozen people from amongst the 2.5 billion of us who have this privileged task of reporting directly about each other and helping us understand each other better.

I hope that your interactions today have opened new pathways, beyond the dozen. A more meaningful and productive relationship between the media organisations of our two ancient civilisations which are transforming themselves and are re-emerging as key players on the world stage is essential.

The imperatives for greater media cooperation are all in place.

From less than a billion dollars a little more than a decade ago, the India-China bilateral trade is now hovering around $70 billion, and, despite the festering global downturn we are aiming at a trade target of $100 billion by 2015 even as we work to reduce the balance of trade and ensure sustainability. The economic and commercial linkages between India and China will keep growing thereby ensuring that the economic imperative for a better understanding of the matrix of our relationship is only going to get stronger.

In an increasingly interdependent global world India and China both desire to co-exist and co-prosper. We have commonalities relating to the international economic system, energy security, climate change and the environment. Both want a stable Asia-Pacific that will allow us to sustain our economic growth. Both are looking towards cooperating on maritime security as we have a common interest in freedom and security of transportation on the global commons. Both are wrestling with the new challenges posed by non-traditional threats and are pursuing new frontiers in space and cyberspace. So the scope of our international cooperation has widened.

Yes, the boundary question which is a particularly difficult issue remains unresolved. Yes, we have differing perceptions on some issues. And, Yes we have potential differences on other matters. However, as governments we have set up a number of mechanisms for dialogue and communication to address these issues. Yes there is need to widen and deepen the scope of our engagement in some areas. And Yes, I can with confidence say, we are endeavouring in a mature spirit of reconciliation and pragmatism to manage issues that are arise in our relationship even as we build on the commonalities.

However, in this day and age where our stakes are growing by the day in terms of their scope such channels of communication and engagement cannot remain confined to what Governments do. The media is an important stake holder, in varying degrees, in both our societies. As the scale of India-China interactions has grown so must there be a quest amongst media organisations to find a new equilibrium in our understanding of each other.

I am, therefore, happy to see a frank and free-wheeling exchange of ideas among leading opinion-makers of both countries with a view to taking this important project of bridging knowledge and information deficit forward. There is a lot riding on this exercise of developing and refining mutual perceptions of each other - an enduring diplomatic and strategic relationship between the two countries can’t thrive without adequate understanding of each other’s societies, cultures, systems and ethos.

Right now, there is a deficit both in terms of information about each other as well as in terms of the quality of perceptions. There is not enough reporting about each other in the media of the two countries. I am told that a survey by The Global Times, China’s influential newspaper, has shown that the reporting on India in Chinese media platforms has declined sharply in the last two years. I am sure there must have been discussions on the reasons for this apparent decline in interest in India and also constructive suggestions on how to bridge this gap.

Also, the same survey has shown that besides India and China, border and incursions are most used words in the reporting about China in the Indian media. The survey, my Indian media friends tell me, is a little unfair as more than 85 per cent of stories on China in India media are neutral, and very often contains elements of admiration about China’s accomplishments in myriad fields. These statistics point to the nature of the problem: first, there is limited interest in each other; and second, if there is interest it is focused around a set of specific themes creating asymmetry and perhaps also spawning prejudice.

I understand that the discussions to day have shown, there is a candid acknowledgement of this situation and at the same time a willingness to address the situation.

As the great Chinese sage-philosopher Confucius said memorably:

"When things are investigated, knowledge is extended. When knowledge is extended, thoughts are made sincere, when thoughts are made sincere, the heart and mind is rectified…”

There is a striking echo of this spirit of seeking truth and keeping doors and windows of minds and hearts open in what the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, said:

"I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

It is with this deep civilizational perspective and the purity of mind and heart we should approach the India-China relationship and aspire for greater heights in years to come.

Friends, there has been plenty of food for thought, and now it’s time to have real food. Thank you all for finding time to be here. I hope you will enjoy your dinner and carry fond memories of the intellectual feast which is what the day-long discussions can be best described as.

I wish our Chinese guests a pleasant stay in India and a happy and safe journey back home.

Thank you.

New Delhi
September 16, 2013


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