China on Friday acknowledged that it had suffered casualties during the Galwan valley clash in June 2020 by publicly announcing posthumous gallantry citations for four soldiers, including the regimental commander, for their actions.
The step comes in the midst of a disengagement process with India at the shores of Pangong lake – one of the several friction points in the stand-off between the two Asian militaries in eastern Ladakh since May 2020, The Wire reported.
After the Galwan face-off on June 15, India had immediately declared that 20 Indian soldiers had been killed in action during the hand-to-hand fight. These were the first casualties at the India-China border since 1975.
On Friday, Chinese state media reported that the Central Military Commission announced that the four frontier soldiers had been recognised for their “sacrifice” for the clash with India at Galwan in June last year.
“The Central Military Commission awarded Qi Fabao, the regimental commander from the PLA Xinjiang Military Command, the title of ‘Hero regimental commander for defending the border,’ Chen Hongjun with “Hero to defend the border,’ and awarded first-class merit to Chen Xiangrong, Xiao Siyuan and Wang Zhuoran,” reported the Global Times.
While the Indian Army has said that China was the aggressor, the Chinese state tabloid claimed that “the responsibility of the deadly skirmish in the Galwan Valley falls on the Indian military”.
The tabloid also stated that this was the “first time China has unveiled casualties and details of these officers and soldiers’ sacrifice”. It said that four of them had died when dealing with the Indian military’s “illegal trespassing” of the Galwan Valley Line of Actual Control (LAC)”.
As per the paper, the awards process also recounted the whole incident. The citation apparently claimed that India had deployed a large number of soldiers who were hidden and tried to force the Chinese to concede. Further, the report said the Chinese soldiers fought against Indian soldiers armed with “steel tubes, cudgels and stones”.
It claimed that Qi Fabao, regimental commander of the Chinese military, went to negotiate with a few soldiers, after India allegedly crossed the LAC and were building tents.
“When facing more Indian soldiers appearing from nearby mountains, while reproaching the Indian military for destroying the agreement, Qi organized Chinese soldiers to move into combat formations and engage in any confrontation. The Indian military then started to attack the Chinese soldiers by using steel tubes, cudgels and throwing stones. Qi was under heavy attack and sustained a serious head injury,” said the Chinese media, quoting the Chinese Military Commission’s announcement.
“Chen Hongjun, Chen Xiangrong and Xiao Siyuan fought to the last minute and sacrificed their lives. Wang Zhuoran, a fellow soldier, also gave his life to rescue his comrades when crossing the river to support the others.”
After the clash, Indian military officials had told the media that Chinese soldiers had been brutal in their fighting tactics. “They hit our boys on the head with metal batons wrapped in barbed wire. Our boys fought with bare hands,” an unnamed senior Indian officer had told BBC News.
The Global Times quoted the research department of Tsinghua University’s National Strategy Institute as stating that “China decided to unveil the details of the incident at this moment to refute previous disinformation, stating that it suffered greater casualties or China incited the incident”.
Speaking recently, Lieutenant General Y.K. Joshi, the army commander of the Northern Command, suggested that China had suffered up to 45 casualties.
“I don’t want to make an estimate. While the incident happened, we had our OPs sitting and observing the area. We were able to count a large number of casualties, which were being picked up on stretchers and taken back. More than 60 actually, but whether they were fatal or non-fatal, we can’t say with authority so I will not give a figure. But recently, TASS, the Russian agency had put out a figure of 45 and I think that could be the figure we can look at,” he said, during an interview with News 18.
Last month, India’s second-highest wartime gallantry medal was posthumously awarded to Bikumalla Santosh Babu, commanding officer of 16 Bihar, while another four soldiers who died in the Galwan clash were conferred with Vir Chakras. Colonel Babu had gone to talk with the Chinese military after the latter reneged on an agreement to dismantle an observation post on India’s side of the LAC near the ‘Y-junction’ of the Shyok and Galwan rivers in the Galwan Valley.
The citation stated that while holding his position, Colonel Babu “While holding the position, his column faced stiff resistance from the adversary who attacked using lethal and sharp weapons (nail-studded rods) along with heavy stone pelting from adjoining heights.”
“Undaunted by the violent and aggressive action by overwhelming strength of enemy soldiers, Col Babu in true spirit of service before self, continued to resist the enemy’s attempt to pushback Indian troops… In the skirmish that broke out and ensuing hand-to-hand combat with enemy soldiers, he valiantly resisted the enemy attack till his last breath, inspiring and motivating his troops to hold ground,” it said.