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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 44, October 25, 2014

Modi’s Japan Visit and Reactions in the Chinese Media

Friday 24 October 2014, by Gunjan Singh

The interactions between India and China are viewed with a very keen interest by the international community. The domestic politics and leadership transitions in these countries are also events of great interest for the world. India and China both have witnessed leadership changes in the last two years. Both the respective leaders—Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chinese President, Xi Jinping—are trying to formulate their respect foreign policy agenda’s and directions. Both these leaders have attempted to make very strong statements with their indication of the diplomatic agenda. Xi Jinping decided to visit South Korea, Sri Lanka and Maldives while Narendra Modi visited Bhutan and Nepal. These visits can be regarded as landmark visits as well as those which can be considered as efforts to renew diplomatic warmth and closeness.

However, as India keenly looks at the visit by the Chinese heads of state to Pakistan, China was also very keen and interested during the visit of Narendra Modi to Japan. This was the first official visit by Narendra Modi outside the South Asian region. This visit also gained attention as Modi and Abe are seen to be very close to each other and regarded as sharing mutual interests and understanding. In this context this commentary will try and attempt to look at the way the Chinese media reported and reacted to the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Japan.

The commentary will look at three Chinese newspapers, the China Daily, the South China Morning Post and the Global Times. While analysing the Chinese media one needs to keep in mind that the Chinese media is till date strongly controlled by the Chinese Government. What the Chinese media writes can be regarded as the viewpoint of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) especially with regard to foreign policy. The Chinese media still follows the direction of the CCP and has been regarded as being highly nationalistic in its approach when it comes to reporting on Japan.

The importance which the visit of Narendra Modi to Japan gained within the Chinese media can be concluded from the fact that it did receive good coverage in the above mentioned newspapers. The underlying theme of most of the news published was that the visit by the Indian Prime Minister will aim primarily towards containing China and forging an alliance with the Japanese side. In addition to this, the Chinese media also highlighted the fact that both India and Japan are keen contenders for gaining a seat in the United Nations Security Council and have been arguing towards changing the existing structure to accommodate new actors. However; this is the primary argument which the Chinese media portrays whenever there is any discussion about India-Japan relations. The Chinese ultra-nationalistic paper, Global Times, carried an article before the visit arguing that “both India and Japan yearn to emphasise their common identity as maritime powers, especially in the light of China’s increasingly pronounced role in seas and oceans”.1 In another article in Global Times, titled ‘New Delhi-Tokyo relations can hardly exclude Beijing’ by Li Ruoyu, the author concluded by arguing that “it still remains doubtful whether New Delhi, which puts the economy first, will want to offend a China whose GDP has exceeded that of Japan”.2

On the other hand, the China Daily highlighted the fact that both Modi and Abe had won elections on nationalistic promises of “streng-thening the economy and defence policies” of their countries.3

The South China Morning Post also published articles having similar themes and arguing the point that the visit of the Indian Prime Minister was primarily aimed at containing China. In one article titled, ‘Modi and Abe tour Kyoto with China’s rise on Indian, Japanese PMs’ agenda’, the basic argument highlighted was that on “the second day of a visit intended to strengthen security and economic relations and counter an increasingly assertive China”.4 While in another article, titled ‘With eye on China, India and Japan bolster defence and business ties’ the paper argued that “Japan and India agreed yesterday to strengthen strategic ties as Asia’s second and third biggest economies keep a wary eye on a rising China, and said they would accelerate talks on the possible sale of an amphibious aircraft to India’s navy”.5 Another interesting and nationalistic point made by the paper in an article, title ‘Indian PM arrives in Japan seeking strategic deals to counter China’s power’. The article stated that “both nations hope to curb Beijing’s rising activity in the East and South China seas and the Indian Ocean”.6

These articles clearly highlight the idea that Beijing is concerned about the warmth which India and Japan (both very close neighbours of China) share and looks at this relationship keenly. The direction which the relationship between India and Japan take will be a matter of interest for China. China today shares “troubled” relationship with both these countries. The ongoing territorial and border disputes have not let the relationship move forward uninterrupted. In addition to this increasing Chinese nationalism, which is primarily directed towards Japan due to the troubled history of Sino-Japanese ties, has not helped in improving relations between the neighbours. Even though both China and Japan have very strong economic relations, the diplomatic relations can be considered as highly fragile. On the other hand China and India also share a strong and booming economicrelation-ship but maintain a very sensitive balance while retaining diplomatic warmth.

Both Modi and Abe have extended the image of being highly nationalistic in their approach. Abe was heavily criticised by China for visiting the Yasukuni shrine at regular intervals. In addition to this, one cannot deny the fact that the growing closeness between China and Pakistan is a cause of concern for India. China has also been making consistent inroads in the South Asian region. It has been very successful in forging relations with countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. This development also upsets India. With such developments both India and Japan look at each other as natural allies. In the words of Brahma Chellaney, “The new Indo-Japanese axis is pivoted on a mutual recognition that such an alliance can potentially shape Asian geopolitics in much the same way as China’s rise or America’s ‘pivot’ to Asia”.7

Moreover, the nationalistic sentiments of the citizens have also played a problematic role in the building of relationships. China realises that the general perception towards it is not very positive in India as well as Japan. The only positive thing which makes it attractive today for India is its economic prosperity. However, it has been seen that economic benefits alone cannot help in overcoming troubled relationships.

Footnotes

1. “Mutual great power ambitions bring India and Japan together“ by Zhao Minghao, Global Times, September 1, 2014 at http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/879366.shtml accessed on September 23, 2014.

2. “New Delhi-Tokyo relations can hardly exclude

Beijing“ by Li Ruoyu, Global Times, September 9, 2014 at http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/880586.shtml accessed on September 24, 2014.

3. “Abe woos Modi in a bid to contain China“ by Cai Hong, China Daily, September 5, 2014 at http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2014-09/05/content_ 18554798.htm accessed on September 24, 2014. 

4. “Modi and Abe tour Kyoto with China‘s rise on Indian, Japanese PMs’ agenda”, South China Morning Post, September 1, 2014 at http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1582462/modi-and-abe-tour-kyoto-chinas-rise-indian-japanese-pms-agenda accessed on September 24, 2014.

5. “With eye on China, India and Japan bolster defence and business ties”, South China Morning Post, September 1, 2014 at http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1583277/eye-china-india-and-japan-bolster-ties-defence-business-and-nuclear-energy accessed on September 24, 2014.

6. “Indian PM arrives in Japan seeking strategic deals to counter China‘s power”, South China Morning Post, August 30, 2014 at http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1582036/indian-pm-arrives-japan-seeking-strategic-
deals-counter- chinas-power
accessed on September 24, 2014.

7. “Why Modi’s Japan visit was a watershed” by Brahma Chellaney, Rediff.com, September 5, 2014 at http://www.rediff.com/news/column/brahma-chellaney-why-modis-japan-visit-was-a-watershed/20140903.htm

The author is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.