China Arrests Six for Disputing Regime's Account of India Border Clash

Chinese authorities have arrested six people and are pursuing a person who lives overseas following online comments that cast doubt on Beijing's official account of a deadly border clash with India.

Six men between the ages of 20 and 40 were detained or turned themselves in over the weekend. They have been accused of defaming "heroes and martyrs" who died or were injured in the Galwan Valley melee with Indian troops last June, according to statements by public security organs in Beijing and five other provinces.

One People's Liberation Army commanding officer was seriously injured and four soldiers were killed during the clash, according to a video released last Friday by China's state broadcaster CCTV, which blamed the violence on Indian troops who had crossed into Chinese territory.

The PLA servicemen were honored posthumously, with their pictures and patriotic last words shared widely on China's social media platforms on Friday.

However, news of arrests came as early as the following day, with police in Nanjing, in the coastal Jiangsu province, announcing the detention of 38-year-old blogger Qiu Ziming for "defaming the heroic officer and soldiers who guarded China's border."

Qiu, an investigative journalist, had 2.5 million followers on his verified Weibo account—a site similar to Twitter—and was considered a person of influence, said Shanghai-based news site The Paper.

In a post on his "Labi Xiaoqiu" Weibo account, Qiu called into question Beijing's account of the death toll, saying: "All four soldiers who died were trying to rescue [the officer]. If the rescuers themselves died, then there must have been more who couldn't be saved."

"This shows that there must be more than four people dead," he wrote.

Weibo said it had suspended Qiu's account for one year after the incident and would remove his affiliated account—"Qiuyexing"—for the same period.

Announcing the arrests, Chinese authorities said Qiu and the five others were charged with "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," a vaguely defined crime commonly used for public order offenses. It is also deployed to charge dissidents, lawyers and journalists.

Investigations into the online comments began after other social media users reported the men, police said.

Three of the group have been handed sentences of seven, 13 and 15 days, but it is not clear how long Qiu and the two remaining suspects will be kept in custody.

Qiu is by far the highest-profile figure in the group. His arrest received an official response from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, China's top anti-corruption body, which said those who "smear" the country's heroes would "pay the appropriate cost."

On Monday, police in Chongqing, a municipality in southwestern China, said they were "pursuing online" a 19-year-old who was wanted in connection with offending comments on Weibo.

However, the authorities said the teenager had been living overseas since July 2019. They did not reveal how they planned to arrest him.

"Desecration of heroes and martyrs cannot be tolerated," a statement said. "Cyberspace is not outside the law."

China criminalized the defamation of war heroes and martyrs in 2018, but an amendment to the country's law—coming into effect next month—will allow the state to charge individuals formally and issue sentences of up to three years.

Responding to the charges brought against the 19-year-old, Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, tweeted: "I wonder whether this signals an escalation of the Chinese government's long arm of censorship. The usual tactic is to warn critics or harass their China-based families without resorting to formal prosecution mechanism."

Wang added: "Formally prosecuting overseas critics will have a chilling effect within the diaspora community, but at the same time, it attracts bad international press, hardens critics and drives them underground (unlike inside the country, anonymity is possible for overseas critics.)"

Earlier this month, China and India announced their intention to withdraw troops from the heavily fortified Line of Actual Control, a 2,100-mile undefined border between India's Ladakh region and China's Aksai Chin region.

The standoff has been marked by skirmishes including the deadly melee in Galwan Valley, which also resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers.

On Sunday, a joint statement issued by India's defense ministry said both armies had fully withdrawn from the north and south banks of Pangong Lake.

This followed a 10th round of military talks a day earlier, in which further disengagement along the western sector of the line was discussed, according to the Press Trust of India.

The United States welcomes "ongoing efforts" to de-escalate the border dispute, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters in Washington on Monday.

"We will, of course, continue to monitor the situation closely as both sides work towards a peaceful resolution," he said.

Also on Monday, the foreign ministry in Beijing expressed support for India's hosting of this year's meetings between the BRICS economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Under the de-escalation of tensions between the two nations, New Delhi will approve 45 investment proposals from China, including deals with automakers Great Wall Motor and SAIC, according to Reuters.

China, India Troops Clash on Disputed Border
This video frame—taken from footage recorded in mid-June 2020 and released by China Central Television on February 20—shows the Galwan Valley clash between Chinese (foreground) and Indian troops (background). CCTV/AFP via Getty Images

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