A WeChat post by the publicity department of the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command has recently gone viral on China’s social platforms.
The writer of the post unleashed fury over the PLA having been a victim of “malign rumor-mongering” since the beginning of the year, as “hostile forces” had apparently stepped up their “rabid mudslinging and insinuating” in a cyber-battle that “the PLA must not lose to [its] enemies.”
One of the many apparent lies and hoaxes that targeted the Chinese military was a looting scenario in Macau.
The government of the former Portuguese enclave, now a special administrative region since the 1999 handover of sovereignty to Beijing, sought the PLA’s assistance in disaster relief after Typhoon Hato wrought havoc in the city and claimed 10 lives in August.
While about 1,000 troops from the PLA Macau garrison were dispatched from their barracks, rumors began swirling on several online forums in Macau and Hong Kong with outrageous accusations that Chinese soldiers had looted shops and even beaten two Macanese men to death inside an underground garage.
Later the purported number of Macanese assaulted by the PLA soared to “more than a dozen.”
State news agency Xinhua reported at the time that the Macau garrison had mobilized 1,000 troops and started clearing the streets of debris and disinfecting areas still submerged after flooding caused by Hato. About 800 extra soldiers were also drawn from the neighboring mainland city of Zhuhai.
Macau Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak reportedly said the looting and assault canards were first spread by a Hong Kong separatist group via servers in the United States. Several arrests were made after the local police swiftly pinpointed the IP addresses and identities of those who relayed the rumor.
The PLA again became a target of online rants in September, in the run-up to the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Summit held in Xiamen.
Rumor had it that the Chinese military struck a backroom deal with India to pull its troops back from the Doklam Plateau in the disputed highland area, with some US$20 billion in subsidized loans on offer, in exchange for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attendance at the forum, as otherwise his absence would have spoiled the much-ballyhooed diplomatic event meant to demonstrate unity and cohesion among major emerging economies.
The source of this “malicious attack,” according to the post, was an Indian newspaper, and a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defense gave a vehement denial when asked to verify the report.
Modi may have gained subtle leverage in the military standoff in Doklam, as Chinese President Xi Jinping could have lost face if the Indian prime minister had shunned the BRICS summit, but Beijing was unlikely to splurge $20 billion simply as to ensure Modi’s appearance, which was, anyway, merely for show, said one observer. New Delhi had no intention of besmirching Beijing’s goodwill either, as the tension had been discussed during hectic diplomatic parleys well before the Xiamen forum.