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4 years since the Galwan clashes: From outright denial to grudging admission of deaths of PLA soldiers. Read China’s treachery over the LAC skirmishes

On 15 June 2020, Chinese troops attacked their Indian counterparts in Ladakh, touching off a conflict that has redefined the frosty relationship between the two Himalayan neighbours. Since the attack, Beining wavered from denying its causulties and then grudingly accepting them as facts came to the fore.

Today, 15 June 2024, marks the 4th anniversary of the tragic Galwan Valley clashes between Indo-China troops, resulting in significant casualties on both sides and profoundly altering the relationship between the two countries. Four years on, the relations between the two neighbours remain strained. The border deadlock persists despite numerous military and diplomatic efforts.

It all started with the border standoff along the India-China border in Eastern Ladakh. Chinese troopers who weren’t used to being challenged over their salami slicing, found themselves up against an Armed forces motivated to not cede an inch of their territory and give them a bloody nose if need be. This resulted in a scuffle between the two forces at Pangong Tso lake two months before the fateful Galwan Valley clashes.

On June 15, 2020, the Chinese troops had attacked the Indian troops along the LAC near the Ladakh border. The clashes had resulted in India losing 20 of its soldiers. China initially denied facing any casualties in the attack. However, after months of denial, China later acknowledged the loss of at least 5 of its soldiers, although independent reports suggested Beijing lost around 35-40 soldiers in the clashes.

The fallen Indian soldiers were honoured by the government and their last rites were performed in the presence of government representatives, accorded them the due status of martyrs. PM Modi and the COAS had also visited to meet and speak to the injured soldiers.

China, on the other hand, went to great lengths to paper over the murky details of clashes lest it triggers a turn of domestic events out of Beijing’s control. However, months after the border skirmish, in February 2021, China conferred posthumous awards upon four PLA troops thus officially recognising the casualties from the Galwan clash for the first time. Earlier, an image of a tombstone of a deceased PLA soldier provided the first evidence of Chinese casualty in the clashes.

Subsequently, a report published by an independent Australian media organisation, The Klaxon, revealed for the first time that there have been significant casualties on the Chinese side as well. 

“At least 38 PLA troops were washed away and drowned” on the night of June 15 when the clash happened at the Galwan River,” the report said. It also said that evidence has also emerged that strongly suggests The Chinese side have intentionally conflated facts and imagery of two separate but similar clashes that occurred just over a week apart in Galwan.

According to the report, from April 2020, Chinese forces began constructing temporary infrastructure in the Galwan Valley, including tents, dugouts, and machinery. By May, skirmishes erupted between Indian and Chinese troops at various locations along the China-India border, including Pangong Lake in Ladakh.

A report titled “Galwan Decoded,” prepared by social media researchers, asserted that China’s public accounts were largely fabricated. The report was published following a year-long investigation, which involved discussions with mainland Chinese bloggers, information from Chinese citizens, and media reports later deleted by Chinese authorities, the researchers chose to remain anonymous for security reasons.

The report noted that although many blogs and pages were removed by Chinese authorities, digital archives from mainland China tell a different story. It claimed that numerous Chinese soldiers died while attempting to cross the fast-flowing Galwan River. China acknowledged only Junior Sergeant Wang Zhuoran’s death by drowning, while PLA Battalion Commander Major Chen Hongjun, Private Chen Xiangrong, and Junior Sergeant Xiao Siyuan were reported as killed by Indian forces.

The report also included a now-deleted document stating that Wang Zhuoran’s unit was ordered to “perform a support mission” in June 2020. The document described comrades being swept downstream and Wang Zhuoran saving four before getting trapped by stones at the river’s bottom, leading to his drowning due to exhaustion.

The Klaxon report linked the origins of the Galwan clash back to May 22, 2020, when Indian soldiers attempted to build a temporary bridge over the Galwan River. The report specified that on this date, Indian troops led by Colonel Santosh, commander of the 16th Bihar Regiment, constructed a temporary bridge over a stream of the Galwan River to facilitate the monitoring of Chinese activities. The Chinese were constructing their own infrastructure in the buffer zone, and the Indian bridge construction provoked a strong reaction from the Chinese side. 

On June 6, 80 PLA soldiers arrived to dismantle the bridge, leading to a confrontation with nearly 100 Indian troops. Following this standoff, both sides agreed to withdraw personnel from the buffer zone and dismantle any facilities that crossed the line.

However, the Chinese did not uphold their promise and began dismantling the Indian bridge instead of removing their infrastructure. In response, on June 15, 2020, Col. Santosh Babu and his troops went to the disputed area in the Galwan Valley at night to remove the Chinese encroachments. Col. Qi Fabao of the Chinese side, along with approximately 150 soldiers, was present.

A close-up of LAC along the Galwan Valley where clashes erupted between Indo-Chinese troops

Rather than engaging in dialogue, Fabao ordered his troops to form a battle formation, disregarding the mutual agreement made on June 6, 2021. When Fabao attacked, he was quickly surrounded by Indian troops. To rescue him, PLA battalion commander Chen Hongjun and soldier Chen Xiangrong engaged in a physical scuffle with Indian troops using steel pipes, sticks, and stones to cover their commander’s escape.

Interestingly, the report reveals that Colonel Qi Fabao was “hit in the head by an Indian army soldier and rushed back with serious injuries.” Additionally, “China’s Hongjun and Xiangrong were immediately neutralized by the Indian army.” Another Chinese soldier, Xiao Siyuan, who was recording the incident, was attacked and severely injured by an Indian soldier and later succumbed to his injuries. Reportedly, after Col. Fabao left and the PLA soldiers saw the bodies of their major commanders, they panicked and retreated.

Wang Zhuoran and his companion Ma Ming, whose company was ordered to support the mission, stepped forward to help their scattered, retreating comrades by guiding them to safety. It is reported that the PLA soldiers, not having time to wear water pants, hurriedly decided to cross the icy Galwan waters at night to continue their attack. The report suggests that at this point, “The river rose suddenly, causing injured comrades to slip and be washed downstream.” Information from those who attended Wang’s funeral indicates that Junior Sergeant Wang Zhuoran successfully pushed four of his comrades across the river, but his legs became stuck in stones at river’s bottom.

A book titled ‘India’s Fearless 3: New Military Stories of Unimaginable Courage and Sacrifice,’ authored by HT’s Rahul Singh and India Today journalist Shiv Aroor, corroborated the stark betrayal and treachery associated with the Chinese forces, along with other stories of remarkable valor exhibited by India’s uniformed soldiers.

The book highlighted Chinese deceit in the Galwan Valley, the effects of which still influence the Indian Armed Forces’ cautious approach to China. It revealed that the attack on Indian forces was premeditated, with the Chinese aiming to unilaterally change the status quo and impose heavy losses on the outnumbered Indian troops to force them into retreat.

However, they encountered resolute and determined Indian forces who thwarted the Chinese plans and inflicted significant damage. Havildar Dharamvir Kumar Singh, a member of the 16 Bihar Regiment, recounted to the authors how the Chinese forces were at least three times more in number than the Indian soldiers in the Galwan Valley.

“There were less than 400 of us. We soon discovered that the number of Chinese soldiers advancing towards us was maybe three times that. We had been fighting smaller numbers of Chinese for two hours before that. But this was their main force, launching an all-out assault against us,” the book quoted Havildar Dharamvir Kumar Singh as saying.

China’s old habit of salami slicing its neighbours’ territorities, its iron-fist control over information and domestic repression to suppress dissent and challenge to CCP’s supremacy underscores the issues facing the Modi government in his third term against a hostile nation with an authoritarian leader at its helm who is bent on flouting the ‘rules based world order’ to “restore” China’s global hegemony. 

As PM Modi takes office for the third time, 15th June is not just a sombre day to commemorate the supreme sacrifices of our soldiers and the unscrupulous army it is up against, but against the challenges it may face as Xi Jinping tightens his authoritarian grip over China and amid a highly volatile world marred by invasions, terror attacks, wars, and Climate Change.

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Jinit Jain
Jinit Jain
Writer. Learner. Cricket Enthusiast.

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