Post the Indian Army-PLA clash at Galwan on the night of June 15-16, India had acknowledged suffering 20 killed in action (KIA). China remained mum about casualties suffered by PLA. PLA killed estimates from other sources ranged from 43 to 111 killed. There was considerable agitation on Chinese social media on Beijing’s silence especially with India honouring their braves who had died fighting and the final ceremonial send off given to them in public glare as is common here.
Finally on June 23 China was forced to admit casualties suffered by PLA at Galwan when China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in a briefing that reports claiming more than 40 PLA troops died was “fake news”.
Then on June 24, a meeting was called at the Chinese foreign ministry of a select group of diplomats for a briefing by He Xiangqi, deputy director general of boundary and ocean affairs. Countries called for this briefing included most south Asian countries, excluding Pakistan, Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) countries, Japan and South Korea. Also, the US, European countries and Australia were among the countries not invited to the briefing, which lasted for about 20 minutes.
Xiangqi said China did not suffer heavy casualties in the deadly brawl with Indian troops in eastern Ladakh on June 15 and has not revealed the number because a comparison could stir up hostility. She added the reason for not revealing the casualty numbers is because Beijing does not want to stir up sentiments, saying, “Exact casualties were not publicized as China did not want the media to play it up. Now was the time for both sides to find ways to de-escalate the situation and restore stability. Comparisons may trigger antagonism on both sides, which is not helpful.”
But now photographs have emerged of a fresh graveyard in China occupied Ladakh (in Tibet) with proper tombstones that give out name of the individual killed, date of birth (like Born December 2001), the service number (like 69316 from Fujian), circumstances of death (like “June 2020 during struggle/fight with Indian border defense…”) and in some cases posthumous award too is mentioned (like Posthumously awards him First Class). Latter indicates that China follows the system of immediate awards on the battlefield.
India too has a system in place for granting gallantry awards on ‘operationally immediate’ basis with citations required to be forwarded though ‘Op Immediate’ signal addressed to all concerned. However, the red-tape bureaucracy has killed this provision altogether. Citations forwarded on operationally immediate basis during the 1999 Kargil Conflict by the Siachen Brigade received the staple response that those citations should be forwarded in letter form as routine correspondence. That is why perhaps the nation was disappointed that the list of gallantry award winners released on August 15, 2020 had no mention of our Galwan heroes.
Getting back to the above-mentioned fresh PLA graveyard, 103 graves can be clearly counted. This proves the lies of the Chinese foreign ministry – that reports claiming more than 40 PLA troops died was “fake news”. Obviously, China did not permit parents/relatives of those killed at the burial under the excuse of time and distance. Most likely many of the next of kin were told that the death was because of COVID-19 because of which the disposal must be quiet.
The COVID-19 cover is also convenient to lie that bulk of these graves are of those who fell to the pandemic, and that the number of PLA killed by India Army is actually below 40 – so very convenient for pathological liars suffering from mythomania pseudologia fantastica.
But the most significant part about discovery of these 103 graves is that it is a horrible embarrassment for President Xi Jinping, who himself approved the recent Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh after going into every minute detail and personally briefing General Zhao Zongqi commanding PLA’s Western Theater Command. Zongqi is Xi’s blue-eyed General having overseen PLA occupation of bulk Doklam Plateau a month after the 73-day India-China was resolved peacefully in 2017.
Xi and Zongqi would have discussed and refined the improvised weaponry that PLA came armed with – clubs with iron spikes, barbed wire wrapped clubs, iron rods, stones and the like. When and how to attack and brutalize Indian troops too would have been discussed.
The Chinese media would not talk of the PLA casualties for fear of the Communist Party of China but this cannot be hidden from Chinese public no matter what curbs on information by Beijing. This then is a big jolt for Xi, which will make it that much difficult for PLA to withdraw from intrusion areas. Xi’s prestige being at stake, he will resort to more aggression. That is the reason, PLA continues in aggressive mode all along the LAC, as also in the East China Sea and South China Sea. In Ladakh and elsewhere PLA is improving defences, making new infrastructure, moving forward air, artillery, mechanized and air-defence elements.
So far Xi’s rashness has been under question but how it will guide his further actions remains to be seen. But the PLA provocation on the night of August 29-30 in an attempt to change the status quo first time on the southern bank of Pangong Tso by violating the recent consensus arrived at during the military and diplomatic talks in the ongoing standoff in Eastern Ladakh, indicates China will not withdraw from intrusion areas and will resort to more aggressive actions, that may be in areas other than Ladakh as well, even in Bhutan.
There is no doubt that India was initially caught unaware and lost out early opportunities. This was despite China habitually violating accords and agreements in the past. The initial bid to cover up intrusions for consumption of public at home was stupid that gave China the chance to brand India the aggressor and consolidate.
To strike the iron when hot would have implied capturing the Galwan heights on June 16-17 while PLA was evacuating its casualties by helicopter. Considering that 103 PLA were killed in Galwan area, number of their injured would have been high as well. Similarly, India could have occupied the Y junction area in Depsang simultaneously which PLA later occupied and is denying ITBP patrols to go to PP 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13.
Our policy makers need to get out of the defensive outlook. This always leaves the initiative with the assertive and aggressive China. Our journalists on Beijing’s payroll keep repeating that those thinking of offensive action must read up on Chinese military capabilities. They obviously want India to remain meek and pliable. Finally, we are repeatedly hearing of military options if talks fail. What have we achieved from military-to-military talks other than the prisoners exchange in June?
Requirement is more of the NSA speaking more frequently to the Chinese foreign minister since both are special representatives for the border issue. Ducking behind military or joint secretary talks has no meaning when we do not have the guts to directly call China the aggressor and issue an ultimatum.
As far as China is concerned talks can continue till eternity and after what has happened they don’t perceive Indian policy makers having the grit for pro-active military action. We must be naïve to think otherwise. It is we who need to take the decision and follow the policy of AFBL – act first, brag later.