A state-run Chinese media agency faces growing backlash over its propaganda video demeaning India's Sikh community, the latest development in what's fast becoming a volatile border dispute between the two nuclear powers.
Titled “7 Sins of India,” the video features a Chinese actor, dressed in a turban and phony beard, reciting monosyllabic lines in English but in a manner Indians “are perceived to speak,” as the Hindustan Times characterized it.
Critics in India, China and elsewhere have condemned the video as flagrantly racist.
The three-minute clip was published Wednesday on several verified social media channels operated by Xinhua News, an English-language outlet headquartered in Beijing and overseen by China's State Council. It's available internationally on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In China, however, another English-language news site appears to have been censored after criticizing the video.
— James Griffiths (@jgriffiths) August 17, 2017
Xinhua did not respond to questions from The Washington Post. Messages left with the Indian Embassy in Washington were not immediately returned either.
China and India are locked in an intensifying standoff in Doklam, a Himalayan plateau where the Chinese military wants to build a road through territory claimed by India's ally Bhutan. Hundreds of troops have remained in the region since mid-June, and some experts believe the two countries are closer to war than at any time in decades.
Friction and distrust between the two nations date to 1959, when India agreed to harbor the Dalai Lama upon his fleeing Tibet.
Xinhua's video alleges that India is trespassing in violation of international law. At one point, host Dier Wang throws up her hands and exclaims, “Didn't your mama tell you never break the law?”
The BBC described her tone as “amused yet indignant.”
It's the clip's parody of an Indian man, however, that has elicited the sharpest blowback.
In one scene, the actor holds up scissors to another actor meant to represent Bhutan, suggesting India is the aggressor in their dispute. Recorded laughter plays loudly each time the faux Indian appears on camera.
“With its racist overtones, the video has repulsed both Indian media and the wider international social media community,” reads one passage from a commentary posted to — and subsequently removed from — the Sixth Tone, another English-language news site published in China. (The commentary is cached here.)
The Sixth Tone describes itself as a platform for “fresh voices from today's China,” a potentially dangerous game in a society where the government routinely jails journalists for “provoking trouble.”
Owen Churchill, who authored the piece for Sixth Tone, said officials at Xinhau rebuffed his attempt to question them about the video's racist content, and the piece was removed from the site some time later.
Reached via Twitter, Churchill, who is based in Shanghai, declined to comment.
A Xinhua editor showed my questions about their racist video to his boss, who told him not to accept the interview. https://t.co/4rsHqlf36n
— Owen Churchill (@owenschurchill) August 17, 2017
It's clear from his banned commentary, though, that Xinhua has “crossed lines of propriety” before, ruffling the Western audience it aims to influence. Churchill wrote:
Sexualized commentary and objectifying imagery once dominated coverage of female athletes in Xinhua Sports’ Facebook and Twitter content, in stark contrast with its strait-laced presence on Chinese social media platforms. In a previous interview with Sixth Tone, Xinhua Sports’ newsroom director admitted that there was a lack of cultural sensitivity among his team, and soon after, such content disappeared from Xinhua Sports’ accounts.
In closing, he cites a line from Xinhua's inflammatory video, and speculates about whether the outrage generated by “7 Sins” will force the Chinese media agency to confront the same question it posed rhetorically to India.
“How does it feel,” Churchill quotes, “shooting yourself in the foot?”