On May 10, The Hindu reported that Indian and Chinese troops had a face-off near Pangong Tso lake in Eastern Ladhak on May 5 and 6, followed by the second one at Naku La, Sikkim on May 9. Since then, the militaries of both the nations nation’s have been on a standoff. On May 14 Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane assured, “We will deal with it as per the protocol which has been laid out between the two countries and in accordance with strategic guidelines,” as per NDTV report.
On May 31, an image surfaced on social media that allegedly shows wounded Indian troopers captured by Chinese soldiers. On the same day, academic Ashok Swain tweeted the viral image and wrote, “This what Chinese soldiers have done to Indian soldiers in Ladakh! Why is Modi silent? Why no demand by Indian media for surgical strike? Where is Mohan Bhagwat’s RSS ‘Army’?”
The next day, fake news factory Postcard News posted an image with the title ‘Rahul Gandhi’s Fake University Project’. The image has three elements — a screenshot of the tweet by Ashok Swain, a screenshot of a report by Global Times published on May 15, and an image of Indian National Congress President Rahul Gandhi (archive link). The Global Times article read, “Chinese soldiers helped Indian solider who got injured in avalanche.” Thus indicating that the image does not show Indian soldiers captures by the Chinese. The graphic carried the text “Rahul Gandhi’s fake university project” and attempted to fact-check Swain’s tweet.
Prior to Postcard, Twitter user @LazyLion_95 had tweeted the same screenshot of the Global Times article and written, “When A******* like @ashoswai have so much hatred & afraid of Modi, that they will do anything to defame him & Indian army.” This tweet has over 1,500 retweets (archive link).
In order to fact-check Swain’s tweet, Postcard relied on an article by Global Times, a China-based news website. As per the screenshot, the article was published on May 15. However, Alt News found that no such article exists.
We Google-searched the headline of the report and restricted the results to Global Times domain. But found no results.
As per Postcard’s screenshot, the article was written by Sang Feng Wei.
Alt News performed another domain search via Google. This time we searched the name of the author and just like last time, we found no results.
Considering the tensions between the two nations, if such an article existed — about how Chinese soldiers rescued India soldiers after an avalanche — it would have been covered by mainstream media.
Therefore, the fact-check by Postcard was based on a non-existent report in Global Times that claimed Chinese soldiers helped Indian soldiers who were injured in an avalanche.
What do we know about the viral image?
Looking at the viral image closely it is clear that the legs of two Indian troopers are tied with a rope. Thus, it is highly improbable that Chinese troopers are rescuing the Indian troopers from an avalanche. Instead, it seems that the Chinese have captured and confined the Indian soldiers. Moreover, the fact that the Chinese soldiers are wearing masks indicates that the viral image might be a recent one.
Alt News performed a reverse image search of the viral image on Google and restricted the results from May 15. We found no links posted on that day which included the viral image.
The viral image surfaced on Twitter around May 31 via @OedoSoldier who posts tweets related to the Chinese military. The viral image was posted with the caption, “China-India border [translated from 中印国境].”
— OedoSoldier (@OedoSoldier) May 31, 2020
Alt News couldn’t independently authenticate the image. However, a brief context is given after the fact-check.
Events prior to the viral image
On May 30, a two and half minute video surfaced on social media that shows Indian and Chinese troopers engaged in stone-pelting. The video is shot from the Indian soldiers’ point of view. In the video, they can be seen attacking a Chinese vehicle. An injured army man (presumably Chinese) is lying on the road with his head bleeding. He is protected by tactile shields used by the Indian soldiers. As per The Tribune, “These videos, first circulating on WhatsApp, were later tweeted by India-based handles, chiding not just China but also its ally Pakistan.” One such Twitter handle that posted the viral video was @drapr007. This tweet was retweeted over 4,000 times. (archive link)
Dear Paki Friends
— Dr. APR 🇮🇳🍁 (@drapr007) May 30, 2020
On the same day, The Hindu reported that an army spokesperson said, “The contents of video being circulated are not authenticated. Attempt to link it with the situation on the Northern borders is mala fide. Currently, no violence is happening.”
Later in the day, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to India Today and revealed that conversation on a diplomatic and military level is ongoing with China.
— IndiaToday (@IndiaToday) May 30, 2020
As a response to the video posted on Indian social media on May 31, several Chinese social media users posted the viral image. A Twitter account similar to @OedoSoldier, @dafengcao also shared the viral image
There seems to be some kind of consensus on both sides before, however, the Indian broke it first after releasing the footage.
— dafeng cao (@dafengcao) May 31, 2020
Significantly more number of such posts were made on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. Alt News performed a keyword search on Weibo and found that the first account to post the viral image was a verified profile (archive link).
Alt News spoke with a defence correspondent (identity concealed at request) who said, “Over the past few weeks, multiple stand-offs have taken place between the two military groups. As per my sources, in the incident pertaining to the viral image, a significantly small number of Indian troopers were surrounded by at least 150 Chineses soldiers. As per my knowledge, in this incident, up to 10-12 Indian troopers were captured by the Chinese near the Pangong Tso lake in Eastern Ladhak. No casualties occurred in this stand-off.”
On May 31, former China correspondent at India Today and a current journalist with The Hindu, Ananth Krishnan tweeted, “The pattern of how the border image is being shared on Weibo strongly suggests a coordinated leak by PLA (People’s Liberation Army), including by military news sites whose handles have 20 million followers. The leak of the image appears to follow the sharing of the first video.”
The pattern of how the border image is being shared on Weibo strongly suggests a coordinated leak by PLA, including by military news sites whose handles have 20 million followers. The leak of the image appears to follow the sharing of the first video.
— Ananth Krishnan (@ananthkrishnan) May 31, 2020
Dinakar Peri defence correspondent at The Hindu tweeted the army’s official response to the video that surfaced on May 30. The Indian army rejected the video claimed to represent the ongoing standoff with China.
Indian Army rejects a video claiming to be of ongoing standoff with #China on #LAC in #Ladakh. “The contents of video being circulated are not authenticated. Attempt to link it with the situation on the Northern borders is malafide. Currently no violence is happening.” pic.twitter.com/kCs8UImoAK
— Dinakar Peri (@dperi84) May 31, 2020