Chinese police have detained at least four men for insulting soldiers who died in a border clash with Indian troops in June, as China openly acknowledged for the first time its death toll in a brawl that soured relations between the nuclear-armed nations.
The Chinese military on Friday said four soldiers died in the hand-to-hand combat with Indian troops along their disputed border in Galwan Valley last year, publishing emotive accounts of their lives that triggered an outpouring of grief.
But not everyone was in mourning.
On Friday, a former journalist with 2.5 million online followers was detained in the eastern city of Nanjing after he questioned the credibility of the death toll and asked why the top commander in the combat had survived. Police said the man, surnamed Qiu, “distorted the truth, slandered and insulted the five heroic soldiers who defended the country’s border.”
“Heroes and martyrs must not be desecrated,” Nanjing police said in a statement issued on Saturday.
Separately, a 25-year-old resident of Mianyang, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, was ordered to a week in detention after he responded online to the soldiers’ photos with the comment “Chinese men are so greasy.”
“Greasy” is a term often used by Chinese women to describe middle-aged men who are arrogant and sleazy.
Someone reported the comment to authorities, prompting a police investigation. On Sunday, the author turned himself in and admitted to posting “illegal speech,” according to a statement posted by Mianyang police.
On the same day, two other men, in Beijing and the southern province of Guangdong, were separately detained for insulting the soldiers in WeChat group chats after their comments were reported to police, according to official statements. It’s unclear what they said exactly.
The detentions underscored the sensitivity of the border clash in China, which had refrained from detailing its casualties for eight months.
China and India have long-running disputes over their shared border in the mostly uninhabited land in the Himalayas, but the June 2020 clash at Galwan Valley was the first deadly conflict in 45 years. The countries have accused each other of crossing into their side of the Line of Actual Control, a poorly defined de facto border.
A state broadcaster video on the combat, released on Friday, showed soldiers from the two countries fighting from daytime to the night. It said the Chinese troops defeated the “intruders” and forced the Indian army to pay a heavy cost.
A PLA Daily report published on the same day said Indian soldiers launched an attack with iron rods, sticks, and rocks. It said three soldiers, Chen Hongjun, Chen Xiangrong and Xiao Siyuan, died in the fight. Another soldier, Wang Zhuoran, drowned when he was trying to rescue a fellow soldier while crossing a river, the report said. Qi Fabao, a regimental commander, was severely injured.
The Indian military said at the time that at least 20 of its troops died as a result of the standoff. The fight prompted anti-China protests in India. The Indian government has retaliated by banning Chinese apps such as TikTok and WeChat.
China’s disclosure came more than a week after troops from both countries began withdrawing from the border.
China has made respecting state-designated martyrs citizens’ moral duty. A new law, effective next month, makes insulting heroes and martyrs punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. But the law has also been criticized as part of the government’s efforts to silence critics.
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Correction: This article originally said that a detained former journalist is surnamed Chou. His surname is Qiu. We regret the mistake.