During the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development at Rio in Brazil. Bhutan’s then Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley met with the Chinese Prime Minister at the side line of the conference.
The meeting although was a historic for Bhutan and China since it is the first time that the heads of the government are meeting face to face as an immediate neighbour. It invited an unnecessary attention from political bodies from both inside and outside.
While the Bhutanese Media in general covered the meeting within the premises of the press release issued by the government. The Chinese state media has gone a little far by commenting that Bhutanese government is ready to establish diplomatic relations with China.
Picking up from this media coverage specially the narrative put out by the Chinese Media. Local political opponents used it to instil fear by telling voters that this meeting is losing the friendship and support of the India which is critical for Bhutan’s development activities, the Indian media outlets said that Bhutan is gearing up to establish diplomatic relations with China coordinating with the narrative of the local political opponents. Indian government also stepped up its coordination by India briefly cutting out the subsidized supply of fuel and LPG gas to Bhutan during the period electoral process. The result, of course the DPT party lost the general election and PDP occupied the government.
|Prime actors:Indian Media,People’s Democratic Party, |
Secondary Actors:Chinese Media,Government of India
|Transparency: All the actors has been transparent in their effort to sell their own narratives.|
Intent: Politically aspersive.
Authenticity: Lawful means of communication
Dependency: using newspaper, other political platforms and mechanism.
|The focus of the narrative was that Bhutan is opening up to China and losing the traditional friend in India. |
Harm: Internal disruption and risk of provoking instability.
Synthetic: The content was misleading and manipulative.
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the disinformation and misinformation narrative.
|Target audience:General people of Bhutan |
Platforms:Newspaper/ page, political platforms.
|Election: It has a political intend to effect the election results with aims to dethrone the incumbent party into governance.|
National Security: The provocative narrative threatened national security creating division on political lines pitching China-India Narrative.
ABCDE Framework Analysis:
Clearly the actors are Indian media promoting the narrative of Bhutan gearing to establish diplomatic relations with China picking up the cue from a report by Chinese state media Xinhua. A report by Chinese Xinhua news agency was the key from where the Indian Media took cue from although the DPT rejected the claims of opening Chinese embassy in Bhutan. It is the Chinese news agency which said Bhutan is ready to establish diplomatic relations with China while Bhutan rejected this claim.
The People’s Democratic Party campaigned with accusation and criticizing the Druk Phunsum Tshogpa party whose president then the prime minister met with Chinese primer as responsible for the deteriorating India-Bhutan relations. The Government of India also played its part by cutting out the fuel and gas briefly which actually helped to confirm the narrative that Indo-Bhutan relations are at risk as promoted by the PDP. Ministry of External Affairs however denied cutting the fuel and gas but said it has merely asked the Ministry of Petroleum to carry out review of existing arrangements but has gone ahead with suspension.
The actors are collaborating each other in convincing the Bhutanese voters that the DPT made a foreign relations blunder by meeting the Chinese PM. The main critique is that this is now causing deterioration in Indo-Bhutan’s relation which is impact development activities and assistance from India. The PDP later upon winning the election reaffirmed that Indo-Bhutan relations are at its best and assured that there is no question of Chinese embassy in Bhutan.
The contents are deceptive and misleading elements to convince Bhutanese voters that DPT will jeopardise national security by taking closer to China and losing out on the traditional Indo-Bhutan relations.
It was a coordinated campaign to oust the incumbent party from winning the election. The actors including media, the local political opponent and the Indian Government were clearly coordinating in their collective efforts with political motive.
It sowed the seed of huge division in the Bhutanese society on the party lines while DPT is ousted from the government, its party president, a most seasoned politician and a diplomat of Bhutan had to bow out of political life quite early.
The Case has been identified as a case of Disinformation and Influence Operation because it was clearly a coordinated influence operation among the local political opponent, the media promoting the narrative of Bhutan cosying to China aided by the Indian Government suspending the fuel and gas subsidy in the middle of the much-heated electoral process.
The 2013 election turned out to be a heated political campaigning between the two rival parties, the DPT and PDP. As the popularity of DPT was strong among the local voters, PDP has to come up with a strategy to offer a much stronger fight in this election because in the last election, it lost securing only two seats.
Therefore, the DPT’s president, the then prime minister’s meeting with Chinese Primer at Rio became a good tool for PDP to campaign against DPT by proposing to the voters that this has cause deterioration in Indo-Bhutan’s relations where in case DPT came to power there is risk of even ruining it. Whatever the reason of India dislike against the DPT’s leadership, the Indian government also participated in this disinformation campaign just few days before the election day by suspending the subsidized fuel and gas to Bhutan providing positive edge to PDP which played the party which restored to strained relations after its win when India restored to suspension.