China on Friday said for the first time that it had lost four soldiers, including a battalion commander in the June 15 last clash in the Galwan valley , breaking its silence over the number of casualties suffered by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The PLA said the announcement, made eight months after the clash, was aimed at honouring the soldiers and “setting the record straight”, after it accused India of “distorting the truth” and “slandering the Chinese border troops”.
Twenty Indian soldiers died in the clash , which marked the worst violence on the border since 1967 .
The official PLA Daily said “five Chinese frontier officers and soldiers stationed in the Karakoram Mountains have been recognised by the Central Military Commission of China for defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity”, one of whom was injured.
“Chen Hongjun, Chen Xiangrong and Xiao Siyuan fought to the last minute and sacrificed their lives,” the report said, adding that Chen Hongjun was a battalion commander. “Wang Zhuoran, a fellow soldier, also gave his life to rescue his comrades when crossing the river to support the others.”
The regimental commander of the PLA Xinjiang Military Command, Qi Fabao, was also recognised “and given the title of “hero regimental commander for defending the border”. The report said he sustained “a serious head injury” and survived. A first-class merit was awarded to Chen Xiangrong, Xiao Siyuan and Wang Zhuoran.
Indian officials’ version
The report, however, did not say how many injuries the PLA suffered in total, only mentioning the regimental commander’s injury. The PLA likely suffered a far higher number of injured, with Indian officials saying they counted around 60 Chinese soldiers being carried on stretchers after the clash.
Explaining why China made the announcement eight months after the clash, PLA Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang, spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, said “the public reporting of heroic deeds” was “conducive to clarifying the truth and setting the record straight so that the world can see clearly the rights and wrongs.”
He accused India of “repeatedly playing up and hyping up the incident, distorting the truth, misleading international public opinion and slandering the Chinese border troops.”
‘Distorting the truth’
The Foreign Ministry in Beijing also hit out at India for “distorting the truth”. “This will help people to better know the truth and this is a tribute we pay to our heroes and martyrs,” spokesperson Hua Chunying said. “I read the reports time and again and I was so moved by the stories of these soldiers. The martyr Chen Hongjun was about to be a father in four months and the martyr Xiao Siyuan missed so much the girl he loved and wished to marry but they would not see that day come, regrettably. They have dedicated their life and youth to the land they are defending. The motherland and the people would never forget them."
The news of the deaths was among the most discussed topics on Friday on Chinese social media, with many posts expressing anger at the loss of life and calling for the four soldiers to be honoured appropriately.
Over recent months, there have been isolated calls on Chinese social media to recognise those lost in Galwan, but no major discussion on the PLA’s casualties, a sensitive topic that China’s state-controlled media has studiously avoided. In August, a leaked photo circulated on the Chinese social media app, WeChat, showed a grave of a PLA soldier named Chen Xiangrong, but it was not confirmed by the authorities. This was among the names announced on Friday.
In June, a source close to the PLA told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post that Beijing was “very sensitive” about military casualties, saying all numbers had to be approved by President Xi Jinping, who heads the Central Military Commission, before being released.