Issue 23

How Does the Western Media Portray South Asia?

A subject that has long been explored is the dichotomy between the western and the eastern countries. In the 21st century, with the merging of different cultures, societies and ideologies, perhaps these differences are being blurred. However, the way the two sides portray each other affects how they think of the other and whether they choose to focus on the differences or not. The portrayal is often driven by what is stated in the news and media. In a study conducted in 2016, scientists were able to manipulate the participants’ perception of how risky a country seemed by differently phrasing news stories. Therefore, it is necessary to explore the media and how information is disseminated, especially if their viewership is worldwide.

One of the paramount situations in the east right now, especially in South Asia, is Sri Lanka’s economic crisis. Over the last two months, it has reached new highs, as food is in short supply, protests are ensuing, and the country is in turmoil. Throughout April, The Guardian has covered the Sri Lanka crisis in over seventeen articles. Out of these, only six have made it to the front page. The New York Times published just six articles regarding the crisis in the last two months, The Washington Post just four and The Times just three. None of the cover page headlines of the latest eight editions of The Economist mention Sri Lanka. These are all western newspapers that cater to an international audience. They express the views of the west and influence the views of the world, and their lack of coverage of a South Asian country’s crisis is striking. These do not represent all western media, nonetheless, they represent the top newspapers that are the most widely read. There are other Asian countries or countries in the Global East that make it to the headline; for example, the Russia-Ukraine conflict often has its own subsection dedicated to it. Of course, there will always be a conflict or crisis that requires or receives more precedence than another, however, it is hard to ignore how matters of importance in South Asia are often neglected in the extensive newspapers of the west.

In 2021, the Indian Institute of Mass Communication published a paper where the writer, Amol Parth, examined articles by The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, TIME, and The Guardian over the last decade to explore the global media coverage of India. Their analysis uncovered that the words used most in the context of India have been negative, outrageous, or full of contempt. The report discusses that the reason behind this could be that western newspapers do not have a lot of resources dedicated to India. Their arm-chair journalism – that is, journalism without going into the field – has resulted in them simplifying matters for their international audience, and not being able to capture the complexity of the country. In 2017, The New York Times article, ‘In India, Fashion Has Become a Nationalist Cause‘ received a lot of backlash because it claimed that the traditional Indian wear, the Sari, has become a trend imposed by the Bharatiya Janata Party to promote chauvinistic nationalism, after they’d come into power. However, they failed to mention that the Sari is not a sign of Hindutva but is a part of India’s heritage as  a whole.  Yes, BJP is a political party that is staunchly right-wing who promote Hindutva through most mediums, but not through the Sari. When influential western newspapers report partial and erroneous information such as this, it harms the global image of South Asia. 

Another example of partial or biassed information is the Washington Post article in 2014, ‘Bangladesh’s political unrest threatens economic gains, democracy’, where they wrote “Once known for sweatshops and cyclones, Bangladesh has emerged in recent years as a fragile democracy with an expanding economy”. Yes, this statement is partially positive: they have an expanding economy. However, it is the prefix of this sentence that points out the inherent bias of the western media where they have reduced an entire country to ‘sweatshops and cyclones’. One can argue that this is a close reading of just one article. Nonetheless, other analyses have pointed out that Bangladesh has been mostly reported in terms of violent Islamic extremists, disastrous country, and human rights violations in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Most bad news dominates the headlines, as they catch one’s attention, and this image of South Asia could be because of that. However, it is when the rhetoric becomes exclusively negative with barely any positive or hopeful articles to balance that, then the bias in western media becomes apparent. 

Information for the news is borrowed from various sources, and even western newspapers have to sometimes borrow resources from other media channels. India Today, an Indian news channel and magazine, published an exclusive interview with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. In the media, an exclusive is of great importance as the channel becomes the first to tell the story, especially in a situation that is intensely tense and critical, such as the Russia-Ukraine war. However, when the information gathered from the interview was re-reported in The New York Times, the information was attributed to “an Indian broadcaster“. No name nor any hyperlink was given. Therefore, it is not just how much or how South Asia is portrayed in western media, it is also the lack of respect that is given to the South Asian media.  

Yes, not every western news article regarding South Asia has biases, not every South Asian crisis or unrest is neglected, and it is not everytime that a major western newspaper “forgets” to credit a South Asian media channel. However, it is a trend that has been observed and continues to be propagated. Therefore, the western newspapers have to expand their coverage, diversify their opinions, credit other resources when required and honour the importance of South Asia. 

Shree Bhattacharyya is a student of English literature and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: King’s College London

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 3

China’s Kintsugi: How it filled cracks in India’s diplomacy, gaining influence in South Asia

India shares deep socio-cultural ties with its immediate neighbors Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. In the past few years, there has been a palpable shift in diplomatic and economic alliance between these countries. Historically, India has been the leading power in South-East Asia, being also the leader amongst the non-aligned states with great affinity with the three countries. But recently, there have been various pointers that suggest these countries have been leaning more towards China and that this has put the kibosh on India’s influence in South Asia. There have been conspicuous and strategic shifts that have put the northern giant in a position that India was once in. With there being conflicts between India and China in forms of tensions at the border and India banning the Chinese app TikTok, it is important to look at whose influence is growing in the region as this implicates several political decisions in other states. 


An adage by Nepal’s first king Prithvi Narayan Shah goes as follows: “Nepal is a yam between two rocks”. The rocks here refer to India and China. The trajectory of the relationship between these countries in recent years can be likened to a tug of war with the two powers vying for greater influence on the Himalayan nation in between. 

India and Nepal share a porous border. Between these two countries, there are also deep intersections in terms of ethnic identities, culture, political history, trade and diplomacy. Since Nepal is a landlocked country with high mountains and rocky terrains bordering China, most of its imports come from the southern plains and more than 60% of those come from India. Yet, when the country was just recovering from the disastrous 2015 earthquake, India imposed an economic blockade on Nepal, restricting import of goods. 

The Indian government refuted allegations of betrayal in the face of tragedy, holding that the Madhesi conflict in southern Nepal was the actual reason for its decision. The decision nonetheless angered many politicians and citizens in Nepal, harboring anti-Indian sentiments because of how difficult life became due to the scarcity of daily goods in Nepal. 

With Nepal’s economy plummeting, there were reports that the Indian Oil Corporation declined sending adequate oil to Nepal after receiving orders to restrict supply from New Delhi. The Nepali populace agitated over their dependency on India for oil. However,  this was not the only reason that they were furious. At the time, India conveyed to the Nepali government to make several amendments to the new Nepali constitution promulgated that year. This caused many stakeholders in Nepal to be further inflamed at how India played the role of a big brother to Nepal, interfering in Nepal’s internal politics. 

In what was viewed as a keystone to bolstering Nepal-China relationship Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli made an agreement with the Chinese government to buy one third of its required oil from China. China also pledged to donate 1.3 million litres of oil to Nepal. After this, many projects in Nepal were initiated by China under the Belt and Road Initiative, including aid in reconstruction after the earthquake. China’s assistance was key to developing various highways and roads, with more projects including the Kathmandu-Kerung railway in the pipeline. 

In late 2019, India inaugurated plans for a railway near Limpiyadhura region, which Nepal claimed to be its own. The Nepali parliament issued an updated map that includes this region as its own. Many Nepalis supported this move. While both the countries have claimed this territory, the ‘cartographic war’ still ensues as little development has been made through diplomatic negotiation as it was proclaimed before. 

These factors put a severe strain on India-Nepal relationship. With China aiding several projects and a communist government taking hold in Nepal, allegiance between Nepali politicians and their Chinese counterparts has been observed with greater rapport in contrast to a much less cordial relationship with India. 


Since Partition, India and Pakistan have had a relationship that has been rife with several tensions. The two countries have fought four wars and observed several armed conflicts and stand-offs over the years. The fact that several attempts have been made by both countries (Agra summit, Lahore summit, Shimla summit, state visits, talks through diplomatic channels) to improve their bilateral relations shows that they view each other as important neighbors. These efforts have been impeded by the wars, border skirmishes and cross-border terrorism. 

Following the 2016 Pathankot attack and 2019 Pulwama attack, the renewed bilateral relation under new governments in both the states has deteriorated. While India has alleged that the attacks were orchestrated by the Pakistani government, the latter refuted it and claimed that the attacks were local retaliation to increased Indian army presence in the region. This also stoked nationlist sentiments amongst citizens in both countries. After the 2019 attack, India revoked Pakistan’s Most Favored Nation trade status, which implied the subjection of Pakistan goods to higher tariffs and restrictions.

While Pakistan’s relations with India declined, it developed a close relationship with China. Pakistan’s nuclear warfare development program has highly benefited from China’s support. Its  nuclear arsenal consists of weapons that operate in air, water and on land. In May 2020, a ship from Hong Kong headed to Karachi was detained by the Department of Revenue Intelligence and Kandla Customs for mislabeling an autoclave, a device used to manufacture long range missiles, as an industrial dryer. Clearly, China’s and Pakistan’s strategic relationship has been of great concern for the Indian national security. 

In addition to assistance in nuclear weapon development, China has also aided Pakistan’s economic growth with its incorporation into the Belt and Road Initiative through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China will also assist in building railways and highways through Pakistan to the port of Gwadar. This will increase not only trade but also Pakistan’s political and economic dependency towards China, which might pose hindrances to India-Pakistan relationship and also be challenging to India’s own security in the region. 


Like with Nepal and Pakistan, India shares rich socio-cultural and historical ties with Bangladesh as well. While India was a strong ally in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, a few years later, Bangladesh’s new ties to Islamic nations and an emphasis on its own Islamic identity deteriorated relations with India. Furthermore, the two countrieswere part of opposing alliances during the Cold War, which also put more strain on their friendship.

While their ties have seen some improvement with India and Bangladesh making major agreements with regards to land and water disputes such as the Teen Bigha Corridor and co-operation against terrorism, there have also been tensions regarding killings at the border and migration. 

Bangladesh has enjoyed a prosperous commercial relationship with China. Since 2006, China has been Bangladesh’s biggest trading partner. In addition to trade, China also pledged to support Bangladesh with a staggering offer of $24 million in loans after Xi Jinping’s visit in 2016. While this has improved Bangladesh-China relations, this improvement seems to have come at the cost of India’s relationship with Bangladesh. In 2018, China exported $17.8 billion to Bangladesh while India exported $7.5 billion. On the other hand Bangladesh exports amounted to less than $1 billion to China and about $1.2 billion to India. 

It is evident that the rise of China’s influence is eclipsing that of India in these three countries. This foreshadows the growth of China as a regional hegemon in South Asia through several political and economic measures. With India also competing to gain the same vantage point, it has landed itself in a race to ensure efficient diplomatic dialogue, while refraining from interference in its neighbors’ sovereignty and inhibiting their prosperity. As for China’s surging economic influence, it is not something that has gone unnoticed. Experts are aware of the implication of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and what the spillover effects of economic dependence can be. Having said this, India’s relationship with its neighbors is still pivotal on accounts of trade and close socio-cultural ties.  For social cohesion amongst states in South Asia, neutrality will be key to ensuring that there are no tensions. At the end of the day though, its neighbours cannot ignore India even if they are under the influence of China.

(Featured image from

Nirvik Thapa is a student of Sociology/Anthropology, Media Studies and International Relations at Ashoka University. Some of his other interests include music, pop culture and urbanism.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).