A week after a fierce hand-to-hand battle erupted between Indian and Chinese soldiers along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, the Chinese government admitted to its first casualty on Monday, a commanding officer of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Indian sources claim at least 40 Chinese soldiers were killed during the brawl, compared to 20 Indian troops who perished, although they have not provided firm evidence to back up their claims.
Indian transport minister V.K. Singh, a former military commander, said in an interview on Saturday that his estimate of Chinese casualties was essentially based on his conviction that Indian soldiers are twice as tough: “If 20 were martyred on our side, then there would have been at least double the casualties on their side.”
NDTV reported on Monday that when Indian and Chinese military officials met in the contested Galwan Valley for de-escalation talks last week, the Chinese made their first admission of casualties by stating that a PLA “commanding officer” was killed during the June 15 battle, which was fought with fists, rocks, and clubs, some of which were spiked with nails or wrapped in barbed wire.
The name and rank of the fallen Chinese officer were not specified. According to some reports in Indian media, the Chinese admitted the slain officer’s second-in-command was also killed.
The Indian military also announced the loss of an officer during the battle, Col. B.L. Santosh Babu. In addition to 20 dead, India said 76 of its soldiers were injured badly enough to require some time for recovery. Ten Indian soldiers were taken prisoner by Chinese forces and released after negotiations between Indian and Chinese commanders.
The Indian government claims the fight broke out when Chinese forces tried to implement their “walk-in strategy,” which essentially means unilaterally redrawing the contested border by walking across it and establishing positions on the Indian side. The mass melee broke out when Indian troops confronted a group of invading PLA soldiers, who responded by attacking the Indian patrol.
The Economic Times of India gave a more detailed account of the incident on Monday that said the slain Indian officer, Col. Babu, took a small group of his soldiers to talk with Chinese troops who were found on the wrong side of the LAC. The conversation turned ugly when Babu and his squad noticed the Chinese had constructed an observation post on Indian territory.
The Chinese retreated from this post and the Indians tore it down, but when the Indian detachment proceeded to their next patrol point and found another Chinese observation post, they were attacked by “a large Chinese force that had surreptitiously gathered in the dark of night.” Col. Babu was reportedly struck in the head and killed early in the ambush, causing the Indians to send in reinforcements. The ensuing hand-to-hand battle “lasted several hours.”
“This face-off has demonstrated that Ladakh isn’t the South China Sea where the Chinese would be able to unilaterally change the status quo,” said one Indian official, referring to China’s habit of artificially enhancing islands to create fortresses in contested South China Sea waters and sending paramilitary forces to harass people from other nations who sail around reefs and islands China plans to seize.
Although both India and China say de-escalation talks are making progress, the Indian military is said to have revised its decades-old rules of engagement over the weekend, and will now allow Indian soldiers to defend themselves with firearms in “rare” instances.