China-India Naval Duel? Not Quite

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It had the makings of a pretty good story. Three Chinese warships patrolling against pirates in the Gulf of Aden–an unusually remote mission for the Chinese navy–were stalked by an Indian submarine. The Indian interloper is discovered, pursued and eventually forced to surface by the Chinese convoy. You have two rising powers squaring off “Hunt for Red October” style, with China proving that its navy can handle more than a gang of pirates.

There’s one small problem though. The story is apparently fiction. While there are reports of some jostling between the two navies, which would be expected given China’s high-profile mission far beyond its waters, the story of the submarine surfacing appears to have come from a faked news report. The original source was a piece in a Chinese publication called the Qingdao Chenbao. The Feb. 3 story was republished by some mainland web portals, and picked up the next day by the South China Morning Post. (The subscription-only story is here, complete with an editorial cartoon that says, “Captain Singh! I think they’re on to us.”) The Indian military denied the report.

One poster on a Chinese bulletin board soon pointed out that story lifted several parts verbatim from a 2008 story about a training mission in PLA Life magazine. Then the official media jumped in, noting that details of the Chinese ships’ location on the date of the alleged confrontation don’t match what was recorded in the state press. And it turns out that there is no publication called the Chenbao listed for Qingdao.

I discussed the item earlier today with Andrei Chang who edits a military news publication called Kanwa Asian Defence. “I’m sure it’s a fake news story,” Chang says. He notes that some details of the piece don’t make sense, including why exactly the Indian sub would be forced to surface. He says fake military stories have appeared in China both under his name and Jane’s Defence News. Fake products “are not just shoes or clothes,” he says. “It includes stories.”