In a world where digital battlegrounds often replace physical conflicts, misinformation has become a potent weapon. India and China, despite not being involved in direct military confrontation, find themselves entangled in a war of words fueled by Beijing’s orchestrated misinformation campaign aimed at discrediting New Delhi on the global stage. Indian intelligence and security officials have raised concerns over this alarming trend, underscoring the importance of information warfare (IW) in China’s overall strategy.
China’s approach to information warfare is twofold: commercial and military. A recent report by the US State Department sheds light on Beijing’s significant investments in spreading disinformation and molding global opinions to favor China and the ruling Communist Party. This campaign has found its way into various facets of international relations and affairs, causing alarm in the Indian military establishment.
Chinese misinformation factories have set their sights on multiple social media platforms, including X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Their tactics span from India’s G20 presidency to fanning the flames of conflict in Manipur and sowing discord between India and Canada over the tragic killing of Khalistan sympathizer Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Furthermore, their reach extends even to the spiritual realm, with a misinformation campaign targeting Buddhism and the Dalai Lama.
Diplomatic relations between China and India, marked by the 1962 war, hit a new low during the 2020 military standoff in eastern Ladakh. However, China’s efforts to undermine India’s G20 presidency have taken on a subtler form. The Chinese government refrained from sending a delegation to the Y20 (Youth 20) consultation forum, claiming discrepancies in the issued visa, where Chinese territory was marked as India’s. Another dispute arose over India’s choice of theme, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family), with China objecting to its use based on the pretext of the theme being in Sanskrit, an unofficial UN language.
These actions reveal several inconsistencies in China’s arguments. First, the UN and G20 are separate entities, making the official language argument irrelevant. The theme has been in use since December 2022 with no previous objections. Furthermore, the choice of theme is the prerogative of the G20 host country alone, rendering China’s concerns invalid.
Additionally, just days before the G20 Summit, China released maps depicting Indian territories as its own and announced President Xi Jinping’s non-attendance at the summit. These moves, along with the dissemination of false information, were designed to undermine the success of India’s G20 presidency.
China’s influence is not limited to international events. The conflict in Manipur became a focal point for China’s disinformation campaign. On May 7, 2023, Cheng Xizhong, a visiting professor at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in China, claimed that PM Modi’s crackdown on religious and ethnic minorities in Manipur had fueled the conflict. While China does not officially claim Manipur, it is often called “little China” by Chinese media on and off social media platforms.
Malicious narratives from China suggested that India was running “concentration camps” for minorities in Manipur and that Manipur had never been part of India. Conspiracy theories insinuated collusion between the Indian Army and the Hindu community in Manipur. They called for the secession of Northeast Indian states, including Arunachal Pradesh, which China also claims.
Further investigation revealed that ethnic violence in Manipur was incited by Chinese-sponsored terror groups in Myanmar who supplied weapons to minority groups. State-sponsored handles extensively employed social media platforms like WEIBO and X to shape the opinions of the Chinese domestic audience and the international community.
The diplomatic row between India and Canada, where Canada accused Indian state agencies of being involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, became another battleground for China’s disinformation campaigns. China seized the opportunity to propagate lies to derail India’s strategic partnership with Western countries.
China released numerous articles and videos highlighting issues, such as the cold reception given to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau by the Modi government during the G20 Summit. It also called out the West for its alleged silence on the India-Canada row, effectively exposing what it termed as Western double standards.
The Chinese campaign extends even to the spiritual realm. Videos showing the Dalai Lama kissing a boy at a February 2023 event in Dharamshala sparked outrage. They provided a convenient narrative for China to exploit. Narratives like “the Dalai Lama is a pervert” and “Buddhism is replete with sexual exploitation” were disseminated. China also alleged that the West was protecting the Dalai Lama.
A disturbing revelation came to light in early August. An investigative report in The New York Times (NYT) exposed China’s funding of various organizations, including in India, to spread its propaganda. The report named an American businessman of Sri Lankan-Cuban origin, Neville Roy Singham, for allegedly channeling funds into news portals in India to promote Chinese viewpoints under the guise of objective journalism.
China’s extensive and coordinated misinformation campaigns are a matter of grave concern. They aim to discredit India on the world stage and manipulate global perceptions in favor of the Chinese government and the Communist Party. These efforts, which extend from international events to sensitive local issues, underscore the growing significance of information warfare in contemporary geopolitics. The international community must remain vigilant and proactive in countering these disinformation campaigns that undermine trust and sow discord.
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