The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact is a US$500 million grant from the United States of America to Nepal which was first signed in 2017 after ‘determining goals to modernize Nepal’s energy and transportation sectors.’ The compact was ratified by the Federal Parliament on February 27, 2022. However, before the ratification the compact became a controversial topic in Nepal’s political and social arena with the politicians as well as public divided on whether to the five-year grant was beneficial to Nepal. For weeks before the ratification at the Parliament, there were debates and demonstrations on streets – and some clauses of the compact were interpreted in various ways.
The major issue debated was whether the clauses of compacts – which included need for India’s approval to construct transmission line for exporting electricity to the neighbouring country and allowing USA to bring in forces for rescue operations of American citizens if needed – compromised Nepal’s sovereignty as an independent nation. There were multiple interpretations of the clauses, many thinking it’s against Nepal’s sovereignty. As such, there were a flood of contents – on newspapers, televisions, radios, and social media – among which many contents were clearly misinformation.
It seemed like China didn’t want MCC to be ratified by the Parliament and while it at the diplomatic level maintained that “development assistance to Nepal was welcome, however it shouldn’t come with political strings attached” and that they “oppose coercive diplomacy and actions that pursue selfish agenda at the expense of Nepal’s sovereignty and interests”, there were attempts through social media to ignite people’s opinion against MCC.
China Radio International (CRI) – a state-controlled media – maintained a dedicated Facebook page to Nepali service called CRI Nepali Service @crinepali. The page has 2.7 million likes and usually posts news and videos of news promoting China and Sino-Nepal relationship. Between February 25 to March 2, 2022, when the MCC was hotly debated in the Parliament and there were violent streets protests, CRI Nepali Service published 6 videos related to MCC:
|February 25, 2022||Why 500 million US dollars can’t buy Nepal’s sovereignty and people’s self-respect||Reporter-led opinion with visuals of protests at streets and Parliament||737K|
|February 27, 2022||What are inequal conditions for Nepal in USA’s MCC||Interpretation of some debated clauses with anti-US messages||428K|
|March 1, 2022||Who is Nepal’s true friend? Why USA is putting pressure on Nepal to ratify MCC||Anti-US and anti-MCC messages linking MCC to USA’s Indo Pacific Strategy; and pro-China message||264K|
|March 1, 2022||MCC-related example – Warning||Anti-US message with examples of MCC created problems in other countries||178K|
|March 1, 2022||MCC in Chinese eyes||Reporter-led opinion with Chinese diplomatic views on MCC||80K|
|March 2, 2022||What Chinese netizens say about MCC||Scenes of protests, anti-US social media posts of Chinese people, and pro-China message to conclude||61K|
|Prime actors:The Facebook page operated by the China International Radio – a state-controlled media of China.||Transparency: The actor is transparent on Facebook page and name.|
Intent: The behaviour suggests aspersive intent.
Dependency: Facebook, the social media platform was used to reach 2.7 million people.
|Series of videos promoting pro-China and anti-USA sentiments and narratives.|
Harm: The content was published at the time of street protests, it could have incited violence.
Synthetic: The content was unverified and one-sided opinions.
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the disinformation narrative.
|Target audience:Nepali population|
|Potentially incited people to participate in protests; and hampered foreign relations.|
ABCDE Framework Analysis
Actor: The actor is foreign state’s media outlet using social media platform in producing and promoting videos with biased messages to promote own’s agenda.
Behaviour: The actor is transparent in identifying themselves and are using lawful means of communication, their Facebook page, to publish videos in Nepali languages. The actor has an aspersive intent to create public opinion against USA and MCC by providing one-sided information and projecting USA as a ‘not a friend’.
Content: All videos promote pro-China and anti-USA sentiments. Some of the videos have inflammatory messages seemingly to incite Nepali citizens to protest against MCC. None of the videos have any external or balancing quotes (except March 1’s MCC in Chinese eyes which use statements by China’ Foreign Ministry spokesperson) and the videos do not have any balancing opinion or contents. There are accusations, defaming terms used for USA, and unverified or misleading information presented as facts. Therefore, the contents are one-sided thus deceptive.
Degree: The content was targeted to Nepali citizens as they were posted in Facebook page intended to Nepali users and the contents are produced in Nepali language. Facebook is the most popular social media in Nepal and the page has 2.7 million likes therefore the platform used has a wide reach although there was not any visible content boost. The contents are part of China’s ongoing campaign to promote pro-China sentiments and Chinese strategies.
Effect: Since the MCC controversy was a big multi-layered issue in Nepal that generated discussions and debates in public spheres and Parliaments as well as violent street protests, it’s not easy to measure the effect of the contents. But by the numbers of views and engagements, as well as the comments left on the videos, the campaign did probably have some impacts on public opinions. The inflammatory statements promoted to incite Nepali citizens to protest against MCC might have encouraged some to participate in violent protests.
The case has been identified as influence operations because a foreign state’s government-controlled media used it’s Facebook page targeted at Nepali citizens to aggressively promote their one-sided positions on the matter relevant to the third country at the time when the issue was being hotly debated in Nepalis society and the Parliament; and there were violent protests in the street. The operation seems to be a co-ordinated effort as they published six videos on the topic within a week.
The MCC assistance by USA was a heatedly debated issue in Nepal. At one point, it became a public safety issue as huge violent protests were organized around the Parliament building and elsewhere. As in other controversial issues, there were lots of contents around it in media and social media, and campaigns for and against it, sometime using misinformation. An influence operation by a foreign state actor, through China Radio International’s Nepali service page, was identified where they published at least six videos’ contents with aspersive intent to promote anti-USA and pro-China sentiments using inflammatory and unverified claims. The videos reached thousands of Nepali citizens and based on the comments by Nepali citizens, were successful in enraging anti-MCC sentiments. The violent protests and controversy slowed down immediately after the MCC compact was ratified, and the contents on MCC at the CRI Nepali Service page stopped soon afterwards.
CRI Nepali Service page: https://www.facebook.com/crinepali