Islamabad, Feb 28 – Pakistan’s local Urdu TV news channel Abb Takk was the first to report that Chinese had been declared an official language of the country, running the story as “breaking news”.
The TV channel cited a resolution adopted by the Senate, the upper house of the Pakistani parliament, on 19 February.
The Senate did pass a resolution – but all it called for was “official Chinese language” courses to be launched for everyone involved with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), to reduce “communication barriers”.
CPEC is a huge project that’s seen China invest at least $62bn in various infrastructure projects across Pakistan.
The misreporting was picked up by several Indian media outlets including ANI news agency, India Today and Financial Express, and portrayed as an example of Pakistan’s growing closeness to China.
Even prominent figures like Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US retweeted Abb Takk’s false claim, and the story was circulated so widely that Pakistan’s Senate had to issue a clarification.
Some Indian outlets later admitted their mistake and retracted their incorrect reports.
The fake news also prompted reaction in China, with Hu Zhiyong from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences calling it an attempt to drive a wedge between China and Pakistan.
Urdu is the national language of Pakistan but for all practical purposes, English is treated as an official language – most government ministries use English and it is also spoken by the country’s elite.
Pakistan has several native languages; Punjabi is the most widely spoken (48% of the population speak it), but it does not have an official status in law.
Urdu is spoken by only 8% of the population, mostly in urban areas.
Some commentators have criticised the government for ignoring native languages, many of which face extinction.
Several political parties and literary bodies carried out a protest on 22 February – International Mother Language Day – urging the Pakistan government to declare all major languages of the country as “national languages”.
A leading news magazine, Outlook, said in an retraction of its initial report that “the ‘fake news’ did seem believable to most, considering Pakistan and China’s growing affinity.”
The CPEC project – part of President Xi’s ‘One Belt One Road’ policy – involves Chinese firms building highways, power plants and industrial zones across the country. Thousands of Chinese people have come to Pakistan with those firms.
This influx of people has sparked a slew of Chinese content in Pakistani media, including the country’s first-ever Chinese TV drama and the first Chinese-language weekly newspaper.
Operating out of the capital Islamabad, Huashang newspaper claims it was started in order to “better promote enterprise-depth cooperation between China and Pakistan.”
The two countries also run a 24 hour “Dosti” (Friendship) radio channel, which includes an hourly “Learn Chinese” show in its programming.
Despite these growing ties, some in Pakistan have called for more protection of local traditions and businesses from the socio-cultural impact of increasing Chinese presence.
For example, a recent column in conservative English-language paper The Nation warned that CPEC may trigger “cultural friction”.
Referring to the One Belt One Road project, an article in the daily The News discussing such fears said “the aspersions being cast on the motives of the Chinese, such as the analogy with the East India Company, or Pakistan becoming a satellite of China, are very unnerving.”
(As reported in the BBC)