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Foreign trips, free education for children of journalists and more: How Chinese Communist regime is influencing Nepalese media

The Chinese regime sponsors trips for Nepalese journalists to China. These all-expenses-paid trips have been taken by an estimated 9,000 journalists till 2023.

China has been increasing its influence on Nepalese media over the years. So much so, that its ambassadors openly threaten Nepalese journalists who don’t fall in line.

On 29th May, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Chen Song, faced backlash after demanding an apology from Nepali journalist Gajendra Budhathoki.

Song came down heavily on Budhathoki for revealing that Chinese loans for the Pokhara International Airport were secured at higher interest rates than the officials had stated.

According to Budhathoki, the interest rate was 5% and not 2%. Despite pressure from Song, Budhathoki stood by his report, promising to provide proof.

The way the Chinese ambassador reacted and demanded an apology was a clear indication that China believes it can influence Nepali media. But from where does the confidence come from?

Notably, in 2023, the Centre for Social Innovation and Foreign Policy (CSIFP) released a report on “China’s Influence in Nepali Media Amid Changing Nepal Policy”. It talked about how China was running propaganda to influence Nepali media using its own journalists.

Screengrab of the CSIFP report

Over the past few years, there has been a systematic expansion of Chinese influence in the Nepalese media sector. China has been aggressively trying to control the geopolitical strategy in the media sector in the region by planting its stooges in countries like Nepal.

Notably, even in India, there have been reports that China has been funding media houses like Newsclick to influence the narrative around China.

China is reshaping the media landscape in Nepal through a combination of educational incentives, direct investments and sophisticated propaganda campaigns. The aim is to reshape the Nepalese media in a way that serves China’s strategic interests in the region.

China’s Media Influence Strategies

China is using multiple strategies to influence the journalists working in the country. First and foremost, China sponsors trips for Nepalese journalists to China. These all-expenses-paid trips have been taken by an estimated 9,000 journalists till 2023.

These trips are designed in a way that they look like educational trips but in reality, they serve as indoctrination tours. When the journalists return, these journalists often espouse pro-China narratives. They attempt to downplay the issues such as democracy and freedom of expression.

Apart from trips, China also funds the education of the families of journalists. They provide scholarships and discounted educational opportunities at top Chinese universities for the children of these journalists.

It creates a favourable bias among the journalists. Furthermore, a new generation of pro-China Nepalese gets prepared in the form of the children of these journalists who are sympathetic towards China’s interests. If any of them become journalists, it is even better for China.

China is also establishing Chinese media outlets in Nepal that are operated by Chinese nationals. These channels have funding as well as advanced technology that Nepalese media houses cannot get their hands on easily.

These outlets act as mouthpieces of China disseminating content that promotes Chinese policies and interests while subtly or overtly undermining competing influences, particularly from the US and India.

China also actively promotes misinformation to shape public opinion in Nepal. A notable example if of the campaign against the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant from the United States.

Chinese media outlets and social media channels produced numerous videos and articles against MCC calling it a threat to Nepal’s sovereignty. These campaigns have been effective in fostering a significant anti-MCC sentiment among the Nepalese populace.

CSIFP’s report talked particularly about a Facebook page of the Nepali online portal operated by China Radio International, which argued against the MCC, framing it as a neo-colonial tool of the US.

The video amassed substantial engagement, with 430,000 views, 16,000 likes, 523 comments, and 4,400 shares, highlighting the reach and influence of Chinese media operations in Nepal.

Geopolitical implications

China is increasing its influence on the media in Nepal and it is having significant geopolitical implications. China is seeking to curtail the influence of the US and India on Nepalese people and position itself as the dominant power in the region. This media influence extends to the political sphere, where China has cultivated relationships with key political figures and parties in Nepal.

Historical context and recent developments

One of the most influential projects that China has managed to sign with Nepal was the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreement in 2017. However, its implementation has faced delays due to internal disagreement in Nepal. China’s media strategy, consolidated under China Media Group (CMG) in 2018, includes financial support and editorial control over local outlets.

The dragon is consistently making an effort to influence Nepalese media and it peaked during Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi’s tenure, promoting Chinese interests and unifying Nepal’s leftist parties.

Even the US State Department accused China of spreading false information about the MCC, highlighting a broader geopolitical contest in Nepal’s media landscape.

China encroaching on Nepal’s territory

From time to time, there have been reports that China is influencing Nepal against India. Interestingly, while it instigates Nepal against India, China continues to take over Nepalese land forcefully. In February 2022, a memorandum was handed over by the Rashtriya Ekata Abhiyan to the United Nations, informing them about the land encroachment in Humla, Nepal, by China.

The Nepali civil society group has urged the international community to intervene in the issue of land grabbing by China in neighbouring countries. According to a report in Khabarhub, Binay Yadav, chairperson Rastriya Ekata Abhiyan, approached the UN office in Kathmandu and handed over the memorandum to Richard Howard, Resident Coordinator, United Nations, via Rajendra Man Banepali, Information Officer at the UN office.

The study alongside the China-Nepal border found the area between pillar number 5(2) and the middle of the Kit Khola was marked as the border between the two countries according to the Boundary Protocol of 1963.

However, China had erected fences and wires on the Nepali land. Another report suggested China has been limiting grazing by Nepalese farmers. The report also noted that the surveillance activities by the Chinese security forces led to restrictions on religious activities in Lalungjong which falls on the Nepalese side of the border. This area is near Mount Kailash, which is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists.

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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