The Chinese state propaganda outlet Global Times confirmed on Thursday multiple deaths of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers at the hands of the Indian military in June, months after repeatedly denying that any deaths occurred.
The two armies clashed on their mutual border in the Himalayas that month after Indian soldiers encountered an emcampment of PLA forces in the Galwan Valley, a territory within India’s Ladakh region. Indian troops confronted their Chinese counterparts for an explanation of why they were present on sovereign Indian land and, in response, the PLA forces attacked, beating the Indian soldiers with rocks and sticks wrapped in barbed wire.
The Indian government confirmed the deaths of at least 20 Indian soldiers, including a ranking officer, Colonel Santosh Babu. Indian officials added that twice as many Chinese troops died as Indian troops, a claim Beijing ardently denied. The incident was the deadliest to occur on the China-India border in 60 years, and likely limited in its casualty count by rules of engagement preventing either side from carrying firearms. India changed its rules of engagement to allow firearms following the melee.
The Chinese government has not officially confirmed any casualties, deaths or injuries, in the Galwan Valley incident. In the Global Times, however, editor-in-chief Hu Xijin — who had previously claimed it was necessary for Beijing to not honor the fallen PLA troops to keep attitudes towards India cool in the country — finally admitted this week that troops died, though he did not offer a number.
Hu made the admission in the process of disparaging the Indian military as poorly trained, primitive, of low morale, and of little threat to China.
“Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh declared on Tuesday that the Indian army inflicted heavy casualties on the Chinese army in the June 15 skirmish in Galwan Valley. Such rhetoric is aimed at inspiring Indian nationalist forces, and I will expose this lie today,” Hu wrote.
“According to the information from people familiar with the situation from the Chinese side, the number of Chinese soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the conflict was far less than the number of India’s,” Hu said. “Twenty Indian soldiers died in the clash, many of whom were wounded and frozen to death as they could not get medical treatment. But it could be counted as a huge loss even if only one Chinese soldier died.”
Hu notably honored the memory of the “heroic souls of the martyrs” in the clash with India, suggesting that more than one Chinese soldier died.
“At the start of the skirmish, the Chinese soldiers were outnumbered, but some of them fought to their last breath, and no one was captured by the Indian army,” Hu claimed.
While taking little time to describe the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these soldiers or the impact on PLA border forces, Hu expended much energy on denigrating the Indian military.
“The Indian troops fled in great disorder after the Chinese army began to counterattack, with some rolling down the mountains and some falling into the river. Quite a number of Indian soldiers surrendered to the PLA, and were captured,” Hu alleged. “The Indian troops are no match for them at all.”
“The morale of the Indian army cannot be compared to that of the PLA, nor can the Indian army’s equipment or India’s national strength be matched to those of China. As far as I know, the PLA has fortified its position at the China-India border area, and its logistical capability is highly advanced,” he added.
Hu warned the Indian government to cede to Chinese demands — following the Galwan Valley massacre, China demanded a full withdrawal of Indian forces from disputed border territory, including Indian sovereign land — before the difficult Himalayan winter weather arrived.
“The PLA officers and soldiers on site can enjoy a variety of hot dishes. It is no problem for them to spend the winter there,” Hu wrote.
The Global Times piece follows Hu posting on his Weibo social media account paying “tribute to the soul of the martyr,” a post the South China Morning Post interpreted as confirmation of at least one PLA death in the Galwan Valley. Hu appears to have updated the tribute to “martyrs” upon publishing it in the Global Times‘s English-language pages.
In the immediate aftermath of news of the incident, Indian military officers told local media that the Indian military defeated China in the Galwan Valley.
“The Chinese army possibly suffered more than twice the casualties [of the Indian side],” retired four-star Indian Army General V.K. Singh said in June.
The Chinese regime did not deny that the PLA vacated the Galwan Valley following the fight, appearing to confirm that the Indian soldiers won, but did deny the Indian estimate of casualties.
“As for Indian media reports that cite Indian officials as saying at least 40 Chinese soldiers were killed, I can tell you responsibly that this is false information,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
Hu wrote a column in the Global Times then justifying the secrecy surrounding Chinese casualties — even though the lack of confirmation meant that the soldiers killed received no public honor, no known funerals, and only now an acknowledgment of their sacrifice.
“As both a former soldier and current media professional, I understand that this is an expedient move with the aim of not irritating public opinion in the two countries, especially in India,” Hu said of keeping the casualties a secret at the time. “This is Beijing’s goodwill. I believe that the dead have been treated with the highest respect in the military, and that the information will eventually be reported to society at the right time, so that heroes can be honored and remembered as they deserve.”