How Chinese Media Downplayed the Deadly Galwan Valley Clashes

Chinese State media on Wednesday downplayed the India-China Border Dispute.

5 min read
How Chinese Media Downplayed the Deadly Galwan Valley Clashes

While the headlines of every Indian news publication and several Western agencies were in big bold letters about the border confrontation between the Chinese and Indian troops at Galwan valley in Ladakh, there seems to be hardly any mention of it in the Chinese State media.

In a ‘violent face-off’ that took place on the night of Monday, 15 June, between India and China, at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed. The Indian army had stated that the clash along the Line of Actual Control resulted in ‘casualties on both sides.’

However, China's State media on Wednesday downplayed the border dispute and there has been no mention about the casualties on its side until now.


‘Depends on How They Want to Play It’

China's defence ministry had confirmed on late Tuesday that there had been casualties, but didn’t divulge more details and State media seems to have not questioned or highlighted this aspect.

“In China, all this depends on how they want to play it. So, I don’t think they want to play it like an event where the Chinese have won anything. Indian media tends to play it that way. But in China, it is more controlled so the result is, there are no details,” Manoj Joshi, Chinese affairs expert and a distinguished fellow of the Observer Research Foundation said.

Rory Medcalf, Professor and Head of National Security College, Australian National University took to Twitter to question whether China "did not want to tell its people about the PLA’s first deadly clash in decades - because things did not go well (for anyone) and there are risks of escalation which the CCP leadership cannot control?"

Manoj Kewalramani of the Bangalore-based think-tank, The Takshashila Institution, explained how the relationship of the government with the public is very different in China and India.

“In India, there will be pressure from the public and the government is required to respond because of the way our system is. In China, the pressure will be from elites. The people might not know because the media is not talking about it. But PLA knows. The party elites know,” he said.

‘Should Not Even Expect China to Acknowledge Casualties’

Hu Xijin, Editor-in-chief of Chinese and English editions of the Global Times, took to Twitter to tell that while he is aware that the Chinese side also suffered casualties, India should not ‘be arrogant and misread China’s restraint as being weak'.

"Chinese side didn’t release number of PLA casualties in clash with Indian soldiers. My understanding is the Chinese side doesn’t want people of the two countries to compare the casualties number so to avoid stoking public mood. This is goodwill from Beijing,” he tweeted.

Manoj Kewalramani said this tweet is ‘the only real information we've got about the casualties.’

“It is obvious they don’t want to raise the temperature higher.”
Manoj Joshi, Chinese affairs expert and a distinguished fellow of the Observer Research Foundation

A few Indian publications mentioned that Indian intel agencies were looking at audio intercepts, visuals, and survivor reports to assess casualties on the Chinese side.

Kewalramani said, “I don’t think we should even expect them to, because it is really not part of traditional reporting culture to acknowledge casualties. The 1962 war casualties were acknowledged in an internal study in 1994. Till today, we don’t know how many people died in the war with Vietnam.”

“If in fact they announce the casualties in figures, then it is a strategic choice that the government is making to stoke public anger because you are actually departing from what is the norm. That is a purposeful step which is not like the common practice in India, where you need some degree of transparency,” he added.

“If they start publishing numbers and acknowledging casualties publicly that would mean we are in for a tricky time, because that makes it far more difficult for them to de-escalate.”
Manoj Kewalramani of the Bangalore-based think-tank, The Takshashila Institution

Taylor Fravel, Director of MIT Security Studies Program (SSP), took to Twitter to highlight how China doesn’t own up and has a track record of hiding deaths.


News Buried in a Corner

People's Daily and PLA Daily, the official papers of the Party and PLA respectively, has not mentioned news of the deadly clashes, said journalist Ananth Krishnan. The Chinese nationalist newspaper The Global Times carried a snippet on page 16, and reported on the number of deaths on the Indian side alone.

The Xinhua homepage this morning was dominated by the news of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s phone call with Ecuador’s president. The only mention of Galwan clash was ‘below the fold,’ which was just a link to the Western Command’s statement from yesterday, Fravel pointed out on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party-owned People's Daily published only the Chinese military's official statement on social media.

CCTV's widely watched daily Xinwen Lianbo evening news broadcast too made no mention of the border confrontation on Tuesday.

The foreign ministry's official transcripts of its Tuesday press briefing redacted remarks from its spokesperson about the clashes.

Kewalramani pointed out that since the standoff began there has been no mention of it in any Chinese publication, except for The Global Times.

People’s Daily has not covered the standoff at all since last April-early May, whenever the first reports came and they continue to not cover it. Xinhua has only followed what official statements have come out from the ministry and spokesperson. They haven’t deviated from that. This is unlike what they did during Doklam. There was a lot of rancour then,” he said.

‘China Doesn’t Need India to Stoke Nationalism’

Kewalramani said, “If you watched Chinese media for the past three months, there has been daily criticism about Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump. Pompeo has been called all sorts of names - from devil incarnate to liar to thief to what not - and this happens everyday in dailies and on prime time television.”

“In this atmosphere, why does he need India to stoke nationalism. You’ve got the US to divert, Hong Kong to divert, Taiwan to divert. If you want to divert , you have got 50,000 different things to divert, you don’t need to open this new vault to divert. This is something else and nothing to do with that.”
Manoj Kewalramani of the Bangalore-based think-tank, The Takshashila Institution,

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