By Ashok Tiku*
China for the first time, breaking its silence, has admitted that five Chinese frontier officers and soldiers stationed in the Karakoram Mountains died in the June 15 clash in Galwan valley.
The Chinese PLA daily (Feb 19) reported that the Central military commission of China had recognized their sacrifice in the border confrontation with foreign troops: “Chen Hongjun, Chen Xiangrong, Xiao Siyuan and Wang Zhuoran died a fierce struggle” against “foreign troops”. Chen Hongjun was posthumously awarded the title of “Hero to defend the border,” while the other three were given first-class merit citations. Col. Qi Fabao, the regimental commander from PLA Xinjiang military district who was seriously injured and died (global times) was awarded the “Hero Regimental commander for defending the border,“ according to the PLA article.
The PLA Daily, while naming these four soldiers, said, “These heroic border guards left their youth, blood, and even life in the Karakoram Plateau and built a towering boundary monument.” The Central Military Commission of China gave the men awards for their role in defending the country, it added. “The public reporting of heroic deeds by the Chinese media is the responsibility of the media to objectively report the facts,” said Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang, a Defense Ministry spokesman, in a statement responding to why China chose to make the details public at this point.
Ren said China exercised a high degree of restraint following the conflict in June to stabilize relations and deescalate the situation, but that the Indian side, “repeatedly hyped up events around the casualties, distorted the truth, misled international public opinion, and slandered Chinese border troops.”
While India had announced the causalities immediately after the incident, China did not officially acknowledge the causalities. There had been great pressure on the leadership through “chats” to acknowledge the causalities and decorate those killed. Though the exact number remains a mystery, China has only revealed the names of those awarded posthumously.
India and China moved thousands of soldiers, tanks, artillery to the border after clashes in the Galwan Valley in the border area of Ladakh last June. India has reported it lost 20 soldiers whereas China had lost 40 soldiers in one of the most violent encounters on the contested frontier in decades.
A Chinese military spokesperson had admitted at that time there were casualties on both sides without elaborating. China had officially maintained a steady silence on the casualties suffered by its troops in the clashes with the Indian soldiers in the Galwan Valley, but editorials in the state-run dailies acknowledged the PLA fatalities while calling for disengagement to avert a border war. The official media conceded casualties on the Chinese side with a common narrative to “avoid any notion of winners or losers and prevent any escalation of tensions”.
An editorial in the China daily (June 17th 2020) noted, that “China has not released the details of the deaths and injuries on its side, in an attempt to avoid any notion of winners or losers and prevent any escalation of tensions, but with casualties on both sides and tensions having been simmering for a while before boiling over, the incident cannot but raise worries that the situation risks running out of control,”
This is the first time China has acknowledged casualties and given details of the officers and soldiers sacrificed while dealing with the Indian military’s so called “illegal trespassing” in the Galwan Valley LAC. TASS had reported (Feb 10) that 45 Chinese servicemen were killed whereas the CIA had reported last year that the causalities on Chinese side was 35. It is also to be noted that PLA daily report used the term “foreign military” to refer to Indian Army perhaps to avoid arousing of public sentiment against the current move of troops disengagement in the border areas.
*Prof Ashok Tiku, Senior China Analyst (45 years of experience).