On the night of June 15th 2020, China had attacked Indian soldiers and unilaterally tried to change the status quo in Eastern Ladakh by attempting to intrude into Galwan valley. In the violent face-off where Indian soldiers managed to push the PLA soldiers back, 20 Indian soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice and reportedly, China had lost 43 of their men. After the face-off, China had vociferously denied reports of casualties on their side and called it a misinformation campaign. Now, however, China has posthumously awarded honorary titles to 4 of those who had died during the attempted intrusion into India.
China’s state media People’s Daily reported today that four Chinese soldiers “who were sacrificed in last June’s border conflict, were posthumously awarded honorary titles and first-class merit citations. A colonel, who led them and seriously injured, was conferred with honorary title”.
According to Chinese media Global Times, the Central Military Commission awarded Qi Fabao, the regimental commander from the PLA Xinjiang Military Command, the title of “Heroic regimental commander for defending the border,” Chen Hongjun with “Hero to defend the border,” and awarded the first-class merit to Chen Xiangrong, Xiao Siyuan and Wang Zhuoran.
This is the first time that China has officially acknowledged that it suffered casualties during the Galwan clash with India. While China has now owned up to all 43 or more casualties, it is safe to assume that if China was forced to acknowledge 4 deaths, the actual casualties would be much higher.
The one name in the citation by China that stands out, is that of Chen Xiangrong. In August 2020, a picture of a tomb had gone viral on Chinese social media platform, Weibo. According to M Taylor Fayler, a Chinese expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the images of a tombstone of a Chinese soldier in Galwan valley was shared on a military forum in China, which describes details of the slain soldier. The picture identified the soldier as Chen Xiangrong.
“Tomb of Chen Xiangro. Soldier of the 69316 troops, from Pingnan, Fujian. He sacrificed his life in the struggle against India’s border troops in June 2020 and was posthumously remembered by the Central Military Commission.” read the epitaph, written in Mandarin.
It is pertinent to note that the citation by China and the name that was reported to be on the tomb, a picture of which had gone viral in August 2020 matches. One of the 4 soldiers awarded by China is Chen Xiangrong, which is the same name that was mentioned in the tomb epitaph.
Thus, after China awarded these soldiers and made their names public, we can safely assume that this picture that gone viral in August 2020 and was widely reported by a section of the Indian media, including OpIndia, was accurate and did indeed belong to a PLA soldier who had died during the Galwan clash.
While we know now, beyond doubt, that the tomb picture is authentic, back when it was reported, several Indian media platforms and journalists sympathetic towards China and those who were spreading canards in the aftermath of the Galwan Valley clash were trying their best to discredit the image that gone viral, along with other theories that they were peddling.
AltNews, the self-proclaimed fact-checkers, co-founded by Pratik Sinha and Mohammad Zubair was one such portal.
Right after the image had gone viral, AltNews had done a ‘fact-check’ of ‘viral images of tombstones’ of soldiers who supposed died during the Galwan Valley clash. The article headline read, “India Today Group, Times Now air old images of PLA cemetery as graves of Chinese killed in Galwan” and it was written by Pratik Sinha, Mohammad Zubair and one of their other propagandists.
The article was plugged by Mohammad Zubair on Twitter, while quoting journalist Sushant Sinha who had added two pictures in his tweets. One of what looked to be a graveyard and the other, of the specific tomb.
The tweet, of course, slyly indicated that both these images were fake.
When one looks at the article plugged by Mohammad Zubair, however, one realises how manipulatively AltNews tried to discredit not just the picture of the tomb, but also the fact that China actually suffered casualties during the Galwan clash with India.
The article in question starts by attempting to discredit the first picture shared by Sushant Sinha, which shows a graveyard. The picture in question, that AltNews was desperately trying to disprove, was also aired by media outlets like India Today and Times Now. After attempting to prove that the first image was fake, they, towards the fag end of the article, plugged a tweet by journalist Geeta Mohan and claimed that a second image has also gone viral but while the image “might be recent”, they were unable to confirm the antecedents of the grave.
Right after they plugged this tweet with a mere one-line explanation, they had a separate section to talk about how misinformation was being spread on Social Media. In that section, they plugged the tweet of journalist Sushant Sinha and called it misinformation.
Plugging the tweet by Sushant Sinha, they simply mention that he plugged images of the Kangxiwa war memorial and claimed that he was spreading misinformation.
This entire fact-check by AltNews was a rather sly attempt to lay the seed of doubt in the minds of its readers that if the first image was proven to be of a war memorial and not of the Galwan Valley soldiers, then the other image of the tomb must also be fake news and this, is a standard tactic by Altnews. Several times Altnews makes tenuous arguments trying to slyly disprove something that is inconvenient to thair narrative by fact-checking something completely unrelated.
It is also worthy to note here that this was not the only ‘fact-check’ by AltNews that tried to discredit and disprove the fact that China suffered casualties during the Galwan clash with India.
On the 16th of June 2020, only a day after the Galwan clash where 20 Indian soldiers made the supreme sacrifice, Altnews in an article, essentially, tried to “fact-check” the “rumour” about 5 Chinese soldiers were killed during the standoff with India. The Chief Reporter with Chinese state propaganda channel Global Times had tweeted that 5 Chinese soldiers were killed and 11 were injured during the standoff. This news was then picked up by several Indian journalists and Media houses. It is to be kept in mind that these were initial reports and the reports of 43 casualties came only later.
Now, if the Chief Reporter of Global Times, which is a Chinese state propaganda channel, tweets the number of casualties, it is generally going to be considered to be coming from reliable sources. It turns out, China was not happy with its journalist going “rogue” and talking about the number of casualties on their side. GlobalTimes tweeted immediately “clarifying” that the portal had not reported any official numbers of casualties on the Chinese side. The Chief reporter of Global Times promptly deleted her tweets and unsurprisingly, blamed Indian Media for their misreporting claiming that her tweet was in turn based on Indian media.
From their very first ‘fact-check’, only a day after the stand-off, it was evident that:
- AltNews was far more inclined to believe the word of GlobalTimes, a Chinese state-controlled media, than its own journalists. Since the Chinese govt was trying its best to hide casualties, it is entirely possible that at initial stages of information flow, the news was that 5 Chinese soldiers were killed and 11 were injured. For AltNews to “fact-check” this essentially does not make sense since it seems to be considering Chinese propaganda as the gospel truth.
- AltNews actively helped China in its psychological warfare since the aim of hiding the numbers, to begin with, was to insinuate that it was India that suffered casualties and China did not.
It is pertinent to keep in mind that both journalist Wang Wenwen and Global Times are on Twitter with the explicit sanction of the Chinese government since Twitter is banned in China. Hence, AltNews helped the Communist state of China to spread confusion and further their propaganda at a time when India and China were face-to-face in a violent standoff.
The second article published by AltNews was headlined, “India-China dispute: 43 Chinese soldiers killed? Media outlets and journalists mislead”.
In this article, AltNews cited the tweets by ANI that said that 43 Chinese soldiers were either killed or wounded. Several Indian journalists reported that 43 Chinese soldiers were killed during the clash at Galwan.
AltNews wrote a ‘fact-check” saying that the news of 43 soldiers killed on the Chinese side was ‘fake news’ since the ANI tweet said that the number of casualties was 43, which included dead and injured.
Further, AltNews relied on GlobalTimes to further this ‘fact-check’. Calling the GlobalTimes and its Editor’s tweets as “official information”, the AltNews report said, “The Chinese government has not revealed the number of casualties on their side. The Editor-in-Chief of China-based Global Times tweeted this earlier today. Furthermore, no official figures on the Chinese casualties have been put out by the Indian army as well”.
Interestingly, there was a dichotomy in the two fact-checks by AltNews. While in the first ‘fact-check’, AltNews brands Indian journalists as liars for trusting the Chief Reporter of GlobalTimes, in the second ‘fact-check’, they cite the Editor of Global Times as an authority that is tweeting the official position of China.
In both these instances, the aim of AltNews seems to be simple – discredit India and give legitimacy to Chinese propaganda.
It is thus evident that from the very beginning, AltNews had found a new client and was desperate to disprove any news of casualty on the Chinese side and undermining the interest of India is not a new phenomenon for Altnews. The New Yorker magazine, in its article titled “Blood and soil in Narendra Modi’s India”, which is a ludicrous concoction of lies of fantastical proportions, downplayed the Pulwama Terror Attack and cast aspersions on the Balakot Airstrikes that followed. In its efforts, Dexter Filkins was assisted by none other than the founder of fake news portal AltNews, Pratik Sinha.