Faced with a crack team of the Indian Army’s mountain-war specialists and banned from opening fire under a longstanding Sino-Indian border protocol agreement, Chinese forces allegedly turned to a secret weapon in the eastern Ladakh stand-off with India.

A report in The Times, London, claims China used “microwave weapons” that “turned strategic hilltops occupied by Indian soldiers into a microwave oven” forcing them back and allowing the Chinese to retake the positions without an exchange of conventional fire. The claim is made by academic Jin Canrong, professor of international relations at Renmin University, Beijing. The microwave attack, as it were, allegedly took place on 29 August. Calling out the report as “fake”, an Indian official described it as “pure ~ and poor ~ psyops from China”.

The Indian Army issued a denial on Tuesday, emphasising that no such incident has taken place in Ladakh and noting that they remain in control of the high ground. Indeed, if for a moment credence was to be given to the very obviously state-backed Chinese academic’s claim that “we didn’t publicise it because we solved the problem beautifully and they (India) didn’t publicise it either because they lost”, it is moot why ongoing Sino-Indian military-to-military talks have the Chinese still asking India to withdraw from the heights it holds.

What the claim does exhibit, however, is that seeding of fake news by China in international media outlets is very much part of Beijing’s psyops, especially given the PLA has been under intense pressure from the Central Military Commission for being “careless” in allowing Indian forces to occupy the strategic heights in the Ladakh sector.

That Beijing underestimated the robustness of New Delhi’s response at the LAC is now widely accepted within the international strategic community. It would, however, be a mistake to dismiss the technology behind the claim ~ despite its B-grade sci-fi feel ~ of the weaponry allegedly used by China. The US was the first to develop microwave-style weapons. America’s equivalent “heat ray,” the Active Denial System, was unveiled in 2007 and deployed in Afghanistan but reportedly never used against hostile troops. The Pentagon has described it as “the first non-lethal, directed-energy, counter-personnel system with an extended range greater than currently fielded nonlethal weapons.”

The ethical concerns the weapons system raised, and fears of a political backlash given its possible use for crowd control, were thought to have contributed to its withdrawal from Afghanistan, although Washington said it complied with international law. The Chinese totalitarian state apparatus, as the record shows, is unlikely to be bothered by such piffling concerns as ethics and/or compliance with international law. Especially, because despite its massive standing army and sophisticated weapons systems, it does not have battle-hardened troops who have seen military action over the past four decades.

This makes them susceptible to short cuts. India must, of course, counter the psyops; poor or not, as we know from Goebbels there’s always someone who will believe a lie if it’s repeated incessantly. But we must keep track of the technology too.