China’s report on Galwan’s deaths reflects its culture of military cover-up
In an ode to the martyrs, Abraham Lincoln said, “A nation that does not honor its heroes will not last long.” The reverberation of this is remarkable in that it took more than six months for the Chinese military to recognize for the first time that he lost 4 PLA soldiers in the deadly clash with India on the night of June 15-16 in the eastern border region of Ladakh in India.
The Chinese ad came in the People’s Liberation Army Daily Friday February 19. He appointed as state martyrs Qi Fabao, the regiment commander of the Xinjiang PLA military command who survived the clash, as well as battalion commander Chen Hongjun, posthumously. In addition, Chen Xiangrong, Xiao Siyuan, and Wang Zhuoran were posthumously awarded First Class Merit Awards.
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Doubts about the narrative emergence
Lately, several Chinese citizens have been arrested for their “inappropriate remarks” on soldiers who died in bloody hand-to-hand combat with the Indian military. Chinese social media platform users Weibo hinted that the soldiers were not heroes, and a few of them were arrested for making “defamatory” comments on the matter.
More troubling for China must have been a interview broadcast on February 18 on India’s News 18, featuring the commander of the Northern Army currently serving in the country, Lt. Gen. YK Joshi, who for the first time provided an estimate of the PLA’s Chinese death toll.
In the interview, the The commander of the northern army said “… While the incident happened, we had our vantage points, seated, observing the area. We were able to pick up a large number of wounded on stretchers. Over 60, in fact, but whether they were fatal or non-fatal, it can’t be said with authority…… it could be more, ”he said.
Thwarted attempts to control the narrative
In April 2018, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China passed a law to “protect the reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs” to promote patriotism and socialist core values. The law prohibits activities that defame heroes and martyrs, or distort and diminish their actions. The law has come under heavy criticism and has been called a way of berating citizens for questioning the official narrative.
However, there is another way to look at this point. By not accepting that there were deaths to begin with, by taking six months to admit that there were, and even then, by not admitting the real number of victims, these are arguably the ‘Chinese state and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who are complicit in the defamation and downsizing of Chinese martyrs.
The artwork also highlights China’s web of propaganda and false narratives, and more so, the CCP’s perpetual apprehension of even an iota of negative social fallout – or its domestic and international fallout. .
Impact: International human rights
Speaking of the latter, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Toshimitsu Motegi recently addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council and expressed “deep concern”, urging China to take “concrete and positive actions” to protect human rights and freedoms in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region amid allegations of harsh abuse of Beijing against pro-democracy protesters in the former country and members of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province.
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The belated acceptance and falsified account of the victims of the Galwan clashes tends to reflect the CCP’s culture of politico-military cover-up. It is associated with an enduring tradition of distorting the truths in order to deceive international public opinion and attempt to rewrite history to favor the CCP’s narratives.
In its political text, Problems of war and strategy, Mao Zedong wrote: “Political power is born from the barrel of a gun.” That the PLA is the Party army is a statement in itself, because elsewhere these are nations that have armies, making the case of the Chinese Communist Party an extremely rare exception.
The history of China’s military-civil relations and the Party’s self-sufficient control over the PLA suggest that the brazen totalitarian principles of power within the Party-Army are working. China’s military-civilian relations are aimed at securing the continued loyalty of the military. However, the fact that China did not recognize the real number of dead and injured in the clash with India could well have negative fallout in the ranks of the PLA.
It remains to be seen whether a domino effect could move the PLA away from its traditional institutional philosophy.
After all, is a nation that does not honor its heroes worth dying?
Author: Dr Monika Chansoria
Dr Monika Chansoria is Senior Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Japan Institute of International Affairs or any other organization with which the author is affiliated. She tweet @MonikaChansoria. Find more articles from Dr Chansoria here at JAPAN Before.