Border skirmish becomes battle of spin as Indian and Chinese soldiers turn to social media

03-Jun-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

People’s Liberation Army soldiers and their Indian counterparts have moved their physical brawl over border disputes in the Himalayas to social media platforms as both their governments try to play down the fights.

A post with photos showing several Indian soldiers purportedly brought down by PLA soldiers in a fist and stick fight at the Pangong Lake border area with India was circulated among Chinese military websites on Sunday.

On the Chinese social media site WeChat, a Chinese soldier posted photos showing a number of Indian soldiers lying on the ground with a group of PLA soldiers standing nearby with sticks in their hands. The photos were accompanied by a Chinese caption saying the Chinese side “had just one injury but dozens of Indian soldiers were wounded”.

The report was published one day after the Indian side posted a video on YouTube showing that Indian troops had captured a Chinese officer, who appeared badly roughed up during the brawl at Pangong Lake, about 4,350 metres (14,300 feet) above sea level in the Himalayas.

The crudely made video, which did not include the date of the incident, also showed a damaged PLA military vehicle amid cheering Indian troops.

Two independent sources close to the PLA said “the wounded Chinese officer was an interpreter who was taken in by the Indian troops but was later released with minor injuries after the Chinese side called for reinforcements”.

The sources said soldiers from both sides had turned to social media to give a positive spin to their “acts of bravery” while their commanders wanted to play down the disputes. One source pointed out that the pictures of injured Indian soldiers were posted by a Chinese soldier on his personal social media account and not on official channels.

“Beijing didn’t want its people to think that Chinese soldiers lost in the fight but at the same time it is mindful of not escalating the matter,” said the source, who requested anonymity because of sensitivity of the situation.

Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said the Chinese border troops had been told to be “restrained”.

“In border disputes, China always wants to keep the status quo, especially now when both sides should do all they can to avoid fighting,” Zhou said. “China is busy dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and other issues like Taiwan and Hong Kong, and India also faces a serious Covid-19 situation.”

Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, an international relations expert based in New Delhi, agreed with Zhou’s analysis, saying both China and India understood the seriousness and sensitivity of their border disputes.

“Civilian and military officials of both countries are already in discussion under existing mechanisms,” he said. “The stakes are too high for both countries and the probability of a war [between India and China] is low, in my view.

“Though, the situation is very serious and India is closely monitoring Chinese activities.”

Overseas media reported that both Chinese and Indian militaries had increased deployment to the border, with the PLA moving 5,000 personnel to the area.

Speaking last Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian did not deny the troop deployment reports but said the overall situation in the China-India border area remained “stable and under control, and the two countries were capable of resolving border issues through dialogue and negotiations”.

Border conflicts between China and India have escalated since 2017, with Indian troops and the PLA staging the most serious confrontation in Doklam near a tri-junction border area known as Donglang or Donglang Caochang, in Chinese a territory which is claimed by both China and Bhutan, an ally of India.


Category: Regional

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