In its first, China on Friday finally admitted that four People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers lost were killed in the Galwan Valley faceoff. The four soldiers also include one soldier who lost his life during a rescue mission near the Line of Actual country in June last year.
The news broke days after China and India agreed with a disengagement plan and a day after the before and after satellite images of China dismantling its establishments on Pang Tso bank were revealed. Major news outlets around the world are citing the Chinese military news mouthpiece named PLA daily’s update.
Four Chinese soldiers, who were sacrificed in last June's border conflict, were posthumously awarded honorary titles and first-class merit citations, Central Military Commission announced Friday. A colonel, who led them and seriously injured, was conferred with honorary title. pic.twitter.com/Io9Wk3pXaU
— People's Daily, China (@PDChina) February 19, 2021
According to the news outlet, the “heroic” Chinese soldiers who gave away their “youth, blood and life” to the region are Chen Hongjun, Chen Xiangrong, Xiao Siyuan and Wang Zhuoran. These soldiers are all given posthumous awards.
According to Reuters, Hongjun was awarded the title of “Guardian of the Frontier Hero”. The other three soldiers were also conferred with first-class merit citations.
Qi Fabao, the regimental commander for the PLA’s Xinjiang Military Command was awarded the title of “Hero regimental commander” for defending the border. According to Chinese news outlets, Qi “sustained head injury” during the clash.
The news outlet also stated that Wang Zhuoran lost his life after drowning in the icy waters of Ladakh waters as he tried crossing a river to reach his fellow army men. It should be noted that China for the longest time kept mum about the details of the Indo-China faceoff and never disclosed any details as to the casualties it suffered during the clash.
Why was the Galwan Valley face-off so monumental?
The Galwan Valley Indo-China face-off was written with red ink in the history books for some very specific reasons. It was the first time after the India-China 1962 War that soldiers from either side died in the border clashes that have occurred frequently along the border in the Ladakh region. The last military engagement the two sides were a part of was in 1967 at Sikkim. During that engagement, both sides registered a heavy number of casualties. Indian side suffered the loss of 88 Indian soldiers whereas China lost 300 soldiers in the engagement.
These incidents were prior to the various peace and tranquility agreement both sides signed since 1993.
What really happened during the Galwan valley face-off?
In May 2020, tensions were running high in the Ladakh region with soldiers and military equipment being deployed by both sides along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). According to reports, the Chinese soldiers had intercepted the perceived Indian side of the LAC. To de-escalate the tensions, a meeting at the level of Corps Commanders took place on June 6. Local military commanders of both sides agreed on a disengagement process.
As part of the disengagement process, a buffer zone was decided between the LAC and the junction of the Shyok and Galwan rivers. This buffer zone was agreed upon by both sides to avoid any potential faceoff between armies. As the first step of the process, both armies were to move back by one kilometer each in the area.
However, Colonel B Santosh Babu, who was responsible for monitoring the process, observed a Chinese camp was still not taken down in the area. When he went to get it removed, it triggered an event that would later turn into a bloody skirmish. Fisticuffs and blows were exchanged by both sides in the face-off that lasted six hours. Soldiers from both sides were pushed by one another into the fast-flowing Galwan. Reinforcements were called for during the skirmish with the Chinese side apparently using stones, sticks laden with nails to fight with Indian soldiers.
An evacuation mission could only happen one day after the skirmish, i.e., on June 16.
Why were the soldiers not carrying any arms?
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar faced a similar question from the Opposition in the parliament. In his response, Jaishankar said, “All troops on border duty always carry arms, especially when leaving the post. Those at Galwan on 15 June did so. Long-standing practice (as per 1996 & 2005 agreements) not to use firearms during faceoffs”.
The 1996 Agreement that Mr. Jaishankar spoke of is a military confidence-building agreement which states: “Neither side shall open fire, cause bio-degradation, use hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within two kilometres from the line of actual control.”
The Aftermath of the Galwan Valley face-off
The Galwan Valley skirmish sparked a tense stand-off between the two nuclear-armed sides. Both sides bolstered their forces along their sides of the border for the months to come. The face-off was also followed by several military and diplomatic round of talks that ended in stalemate.
Ultimately, both sides settled on an agreement in February this year. Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced the same in the Parliament proceedings where he said that both sides have agreed upon a mutual disengagement plan. The defence minister said that troops from both sides will be pulled back in a “phased, coordinated and verified manner”.