October 31, 2020
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Not Lost In Translation

An op-ed in The Hindu says the controversial Chinese article 'China Should Break Up The Indian Union' was 'translated and analysed with some significant errors'.

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Not Lost In Translation
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Normally, I do not pay serious attention to reports and articles on China carried by The Hindu of Chennai. But I did take notice of an article titled Does Beijing Really Want To break Up India? carried by The Hindu in its Op-Ed page on August 17, 2009, for two reasons. Firstly, it tries to cast in a negative light the Chennai Centre For China Studies, which has been closely monitoring the Chinese language press and bringing interesting, significant or worrisome writings to the notice of the Indian readers. I have been given to understand that in recent months the Chennai Centre has been blacklisted by the Chinese authorities and I was intrigued to notice that the article reflects some of the arguments used by the critics of the Centre in China.

The second reason is that this article tries to cast doubts on the credibility of an article titled 'China Should Break Up The Indian Union', written by Shri D.S.Rajan, of the Chennai Centre on August 9, 2009. 

This article has been written by Shri Ananth Krishnan, who has recently taken over as the Beijing correspondent of The Hindu. One does not know his background and credentials as a China analyst. It is important for the readers to have some idea of the credentials of Shri Rajan. Before the Sino-Indian war of 1962, the government of India was largely dependent on the media monitoring agencies of the UK and the US for monitoring and analysing the writings and broadcasts of the Chinese language media. After the war, the government of Jawaharlal Nehru realised that it was unwise to totally depend on the Chinese media monitoring and analysis services of the West and decided to build up our own capability. In the years following the 1962 war, a crash drive was undertaken by the government to recruit and train a group of young people fresh from the universities in the Chinese and Japanese languages and make them responsible for monitoring and analysing the Chinese and Japanese language media.

Shri Rajan was one of those thus recruited and trained by being sent abroad for improving his proficiency. Shri Rajan, who is now 67 years old, had spent about 35 years as a Chinese analyst by monitoring writings in the Chinese and Japanese language media. Of these 35 years, he had spent three years in Hong Kong when it was a British-administered territory, three years in China and six years in Japan in two spells. During his service, he was associated with the visits of a number of Chinese delegations to India as well as with the visits of a number of Indian delegations to China. 

Shri Rajan's article has eight paragraphs. The first paragraph gives Shri Rajan's comments on the web site which carried the article. The last paragraph gives Shri Rajan's assessment of the article. The remaining paragraphs are a gist of the contents of the article. The first paragraph on the background of the Chinese article says: 

"Almost coinciding with the 13th round of Sino-Indian border talks (New Delhi, August 7-8, 2009), an article (in Chinese language) has appeared in China captioned “If China takes a little action, the so-called Great Indian Federation can be broken up” ( Zhong Guo Zhan Lue Gang, www.iiss.cn , Chinese, 8 August 2009). Interestingly, it has been reproduced in several other strategic and military websites of the country and by all means, targets the domestic audience. The authoritative host site is located in Beijing and is the new edition of one, which so far represented the China International Institute for Strategic Studies (www.chinaiiss.org)."

Shri Ananth Krishnan says in his first paragraph: "The post was translated and analysed with some significant errors..." One would have lauded Shri Krishnan if he had specified these errors so that one could have stood corrected. Were the errors in translation or analysis? Shri Krishnan is silent on this question. If the errors are in translation and if Shri Krishnan's command of the Chinese language is better than that of Shri Rajan, why does he not specify them?

What has Shri Rajan said in his analysis of the contents of the article: 

"The Chinese article in question will certainly outrage readers in India. Its suggestion that China can follow a strategy to dismember India, a country always with a tradition of unity in diversity, is atrocious, to say the least. The write-up could not have been published without the permission of the Chinese authorities, but it is sure that Beijing will wash its hands out of this if the matter is taken up with it by New Delhi. It has generally been seen that China is speaking in two voices – its diplomatic interlocutors have always shown understanding during their dealings with their Indian counterparts, but its selected media is pouring venom on India in their reporting. Which one to believe is a question confronting the public opinion and even policy makers in India. In any case, an approach of panic towards such outbursts will be a mistake, but also ignoring them will prove to be costly for India."

What is wrong in this analysis? In the 1950s, a number of maps of the Indo-Chinese border started circulating in China and appearing in sections of the Chinese media. The Indian intelligence rightly brought these to the notice of Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, who took up the matter with Chou En-lai, his Chinese counterpart. He assured Nehru that these maps were circulated by private individuals and had been prepared by the Taiwanese before 1949. He told Nehru that India should not worry about them. Nehru was shocked before the 1962 war when the Chinese used the very same maps, which Chou had described as not official, for claiming large parts of Indian territory and occupying much of it. Today, it is on the basis of the very same maps which the Chinese portrayed as not official that they are claiming Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory.

Was Shri Rajan mistaken in sounding a word of caution that while "an approach of panic towards such outbursts will be a mistake, but also ignoring them will prove to be costly for India"? This was a sound word of caution based on our past experience of dealing with China. I leave it to the readers to decide what they will believe -- Shri Rajan's word of caution or Shri Krishnan's soothing words on China?

Shri Krishnan also writes: 

"The post in question appeared in an important-sounding web site calling itself the International Institute of Strategic Studies (which has no relation to the London-based think-tank of the same name). The Chennai Centre For China Studies, which first translated and analysed the post before it was circulated among the Indian media, assumed that this was a Government-sponsored think-tank and also wrongly claimed that this was linked to the China Institute For International Starategic Studies (CIISS), a Beijing think-tank. But a quick-check revealed that the IISS web site where the post appeared actually has no government ties and is by no means an established Beijing think-tank---it is just a web site."

Dear Mr.Ananth Krishnan, where has the article said that this was a Government-sponsored think-tank? Where has it claimed that this was linked to the China Institute For International Strategic Studies? Mr Krishnan, we know more than you probably do about the China Institute For International Strategic Studies, which is a highly reputed think tank of the Chinese Defence Ministry. Its chief is generally a senior retired officer of the People's Liberation Army. Its past chiefs and scholars had visited India. Shri Rajan had interacted with it during his stay in China. Where is the question of Shri Rajan confusing the web site with this prestigious think-tank?

Following the uproar in Indian non-governmental circles over the contents of the Chinese article, there was a damage-control exercise mounted by Beijing through the owners of the web site in question as well as a former Chinese Ambassador to India and others. Many of us were in receipt of e-mails from Beijing making some of the same points which Shri Krishnan has made in his article, which I am inclined to see as part of this damage control exercise.

Shri Rajan had drawn attention to this anti-India web site as early as November 27, 2006, immediately after the visit of President Hu Jintao to India in an article which can be found at here. He was also the first to draw attention in 2006 to the fact that Chinese writings had started referring to Arunachal Pradesh as "southern Tibet" and not as Arunachal Pradesh. One was told at that time that these were all private writings, that China was changing and that non-governmental views in China no longer necessarily reflected the governmental view. We know the reality today.

It is a fact that some sections of our media went to town with Shri Rajan's article and sensationalised the contents of the Chinese article, but the concern in large sections of the Indian civil society over the implications of the theme of the Chinese article is understandable if one remembers the fact that China before 1979 had trained many of our Nago and Mizo insurgents in secret training camps in Yunnan, that there are reports that Paresh Barua of the United Liberation Front of Assam is even today in touch with the Chinese, that before November, 2008, China opposed the declaration of the Lashkar-e-Toiba as a terrorist organisation by the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council and even today opposes the declaration of the Jaish-e-Mohammad as a terrorist organisation.


B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Deelhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.


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