Hu Xijin is editor-in-chief of one of the most important Chinese newspapers, Global Times. Ten years into the job, he and his paper are known quite well outside China for their sharp, nationalist views. I interviewed Hu for Rajya Sabha TV when he visited New Delhi a few weeks back about India-China relations and the role of the Chinese media. Excerpts:
Varadarajan: When the Chinese President, Xi Jinping came to India last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went out of his way to welcome him. He took Xi to his hometown of Ahmedabad and did everything possible to make the visit a success. However, one of the problems that came up was the sudden incursion of Chinese soldiers on territory that India says is its own. I understand there is confusion on where the line of actual control (LAC) is so these incidents can happen, but the fact that this incident happened when President Xi Jinping was in India upset people here. What explains the timing? Was it a coincidence or are there sections of the Chinese leadership – the Chinese military perhaps – which do not want India and China to develop good relations?
Hu: The Indian media has always exaggerated any incursions by Chinese soldiers. The Indian media extrapolate and exaggerate these incidents in their reports. There was no report of that incursion in the Chinese media. Otherwise, China and India have very peaceful relations. A very cordial welcome was extended to the Chinese president and everything was peaceful. These [incidents] are all exaggerations. If any small issue occurs on the border then we have the ability and the mechanism to solve it. The problem lies in the understanding of the area because there is confusion regarding the [LAC]. However, as far as the rest is concerned, India and China have very good relations and the border area is very peaceful
I understand why these incidents might occur, that there is confusion regarding the line. I also agree that the media in India tends to exaggerate. However, the question of the timing is still relevant. Why did it take place during the visit? Or was it just a coincidence?
You know, the Indian media always finds some incident on the border. A small incident could happen every day because we understand this border differently. If you want to find an incident you can find it every day. The Indian media makes a lot of noise about the incident happening on a particular day and why it happened on that particular day.
Well, I think this time the Government of India saw it as something out of the ordinary, but we’ll leave it at that. Turning to your role as a journalist and editor of the paper, it is quite common to hear foreign media or diplomats refer to Global Times as ultranationalist. Is that a correct description and is that a description that you like?
No editor likes to be described as ‘nationalist’ or for his newspaper to be called “nationalistic”. I don’t like the term. But there are issues when countries have to protect their own interests. In China it is seen that the Indian media is even more nationalist than the Chinese. Indian newspapers report the border incursions and issues more frequently than the Chinese media does. We in the Chinese media merely report what the Indian media has reported. So we feel the Indian meda is more nationalistic than us.
One of the reasons the Indian media reports the border incidents is because, to my understanding, the bulk of these incursions happen when Chinese troops come on to the Indian side. I’m sure if Indian troops were committing incursions on the Chinese side, the Chinese media would report it.
The Chinese side also doesn’t intrude into the region. It is disputed territory and both sides have a different understanding. Both sides patrol the area. The Indian media extrapolates it and prints it but the Chinese media understands the confusion and abstains from reporting. We understand the line differently. We patrol and you patrol and they don’t meet each other. We can everyday say ‘You are on our territory’, and you can everyday say we are on your territory. In fact there is peace. But you say, every day, China is on our territory, you make noise.
Turning to wider questions about the Chinese media, what happens when the interests of the Chinese people i.e. the readers, clashes with the interests of the government or the Communist Party? There must be examples in your experience when this has happened. Who prevails then — the Chinese people, i.e. your readers, or the Communist Party?
When it comes to foreign policy, people want the government to be tough and our editorials say that the government should be tough, but the government doesn’t think its stance should be tough. That’s the difference.
That’s an interesting point. Are you saying that Chinese public opinion is more nationalist than the government on many issues of foreign policy?
In every country, the media is tougher than the government. The government is more balanced.
In Chinese media, there are some examples, like that of the Southern Metropolis newspaper which engages in fairly critical reporting of the local government or the central government and sometimes their journalists or other newspapers pay the price for this. Are there examples where the Global Times has got into trouble with the Government over something that you’ve written?
Chinese newspapers often criticize the government. The Global Times often criticizes the government on foreign policy. Local newspapers criticize the government on local affairs. But such newspapers aren’t many. Criticism in the Chinese media happens daily and sometimes it is very sharp and the government doesn’t know how to handle it.
Many of us have noticed is that coverage on India in the Global Times and other newspapers in China tends to be of two kinds – stories that focus on defence and related issues, particularly India-US, India-Japan defence co-operation seen in a negative way, and then stories about poverty, disaster and tragedy in India. Why is the coverage limited to these two areas? Is that what readers want or is it a conscious decision by Chinese editors?
We have reports on the diversity of India. In Global Times we do good justice to the reporting of the diversity, economic development and natural beauty of India. But yes, I do agree, the Chinese media reports very quickly on any disaster or tragedy in India. However, it is the same with the Indian media immediately reporting on any disaster or tragedy in China. Such reporting has become a global trend.
Coverage in India is not just confined to the so-called ‘China threat’ or disasters, there is an interest in the Chinese economy and society and there is genuine reader interest in developments in China. But the perception here is that the Chinese media focuses only on the negative side of India.
I really thank you for expanding the horizon [of your readers]. I’m glad that the Indian media is expanding to cover all kinds of issues related to China. Indian culture is wonderful and we are appreciative of Indian culture and the miracle which the Indian economy is creating. Poverty and being poor cannot describe the Indian society and India fully.
An article you wrote shortly after the brutal rape of a young woman in Delhi in December 2012 — where you argued that these kinds of incidents were the product of democracy — triggered a huge debate on Chinese social media. I was editor of The Hindu at the time, and our Beijing correspondent wrote about the controversy. Is it still your view that such incidents of rape are a product of democracy?
We could not have reported like this. We do not have this kind of perspective. I can assure you that this is a false report. Our newspaper could not have publicized this kind view.
There is a debate going on in China about western values and there is a controversy regarding the extent to which so-called western values should be taught in schools and universities. Is it your view that values like respect for human rights and democracy are western values, or values that are shared by all peoples and civilizations around the world?
We are only against the western political value system. We do not think that the western political value system is the value system. We completely stand for human rights and democracy and think there are global and universal values and not just western values. Democracy and human rights are part of socialist values.
Do you, as an analyst and editor, see China slowly evolving into a more open political system, where there would be not just the Communist Party and its allies but other parties, where Chinese citizens are able to freely express their political views as in India? Is China evolving in that direction?
The Communist Party is the sole party that is going to be in power in the future. The Communist Party of China being in power has been guaranteed by the Constitution of China. The eight other political parties are not competing with the Communist Party but are cooperating with it. We see no major shift in the future. It is directed by our Constitution for the Communist Party to be in power.
We oppose the value system that stands for the changing of a political party every time. We do not approve of a system that needs the political party to constantly change. It is because of the Communist Party that we have been able to achieve this kind of prosperity and economic development. The Communist Party has played a big role in building the country and bringing the country out of its backwardness and that’s why this kind of political system suits our country and therefore, we oppose a system that changes political parties. We oppose the views propagated by the western countries. Western countries think that only their system is the right system and everybody else should learn from them.
One of the reasons the world today is somewhat concerned about China is that we do not what exactly President Xi Jinping’s policies are. In the past, there was the policy of the peaceful rise of china. Hu Jintao gave the concept of a harmonious world. Under President Xi Jinping, however, there seems to be greater Chinese assertiveness. We have seen the sharpening of territorial disputes with neighbours such as India, Japan, Vietnam, Phillippines. In your view what is the foreign policy theory or philosophy of President Xi?
Our foreign policy towards the whole world is very stable. We seek a stable world around us. We do not seek any conflict with the countries around us. The Western media has made up this idea about our assertiveness and domination in our neighbourhood and the world. We are so big that America and other countries watch every step of ours and there’s big news in the western media. I believe there is no big change in our perspective on the foreign policy front.
If you compare our rise with Japan’s rise, there are a lot of differences between the two. When Japan was rising they had a lot of conflict with the rest of the world. Japan was dominating and assertive in the whole world. That is what is called rising and being assertive.
We, on the contrary, are being peaceful and cordial with all the countries around us. We want to share all the benefits and profits. Ours is a peaceful rise.
You described the Global Times as a paper that reflects Chinese public opinion and is tougher than the Chinese government. What in your view would a fair settlement of the border issue?
The border issue between India and China is very complex and difficult to resolve, I agree, but that should not hinder our further understandings and cooperation on development. On a personal front, I completely back the Chinese government on the border issue. But, the biggest issue I see today is the Indian media raking up controversies on the smallest issues on the border. That should be looked after. The border issue should be kept aside and there should be focus on further development of our relationship in other fields. When your media talks up our border and says very tough words, we have to react to it. And that creates this feeling as if there is tension between the two countries. But this tension is not real.
[Transcript prepared by Veera Mahuli. The video of the original RSTV interview may be seen here]