“Major drowning” of Chinese soldiers in India skirmish: new claims
It was a bloody clash between soldiers from the world’s two biggest armies, played out in sub-zero temperatures in almost pitch-black darkness at 14,000 feet – on the “roof of the world”. The battle, despite being held between two nuclear-armed powers, was almost medieval: fought in hand-to-hand combat by soldiers armed with sticks, stones and metal bars. It set off international shockwaves, sent global leaders into high-alert – and drew the Quad closer together. Yet what really happened that night deep in the Himalayas – and how many soldiers died – has remained largely a mystery. Anthony Klan investigates.
China-India clash claims:
Deadly Galwan Valley clash sparked over a temporary bridge
China losses far higher than officially claimed
Large losses to drownings early in the battle
China aggressively censoring reporting on the deaths
Footage of two seperate Galwan Valley clashes conflated
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China’s losses in the high-altitude 2020 Galwan Valley border clash with India – the deadliest confrontation between the two giants in over four decades – were much higher than reported with many soldiers drowning while crossing a fast-flowing, sub-zero river in darkness, new research claims.
Evidence has also emerged that strongly suggests some reports of the incident have conflated facts and imagery of two seperate but similar clashes that occurred just over a week apart.
Two seperate Galwan Valley clashes. Left: Daytime clash, most likely June 6. Right: The deadly June 15-16 night-time battle. Source: Research report
The Galwan Valley is in the eastern part of the Kashmir region, in the Western Himalayas, on the loosely-defined border between India and China.
Following the 2020 battle, which was fought in hand-to-hand combat in sub-zero temperatures in the night of June 15-16, India confirmed 20 of its soldiers had died.
China has repeatedly refused to disclose its total casualties.
The nation’s state media has almost entirely failed to cover the skirmish or its aftermath, which has seen the Indian Government introduce large-scale boycotts, including of Chinese mobile phone apps.
However in February last year, eight months after the deadly clash, Beijing announced post-humous medals had been awarded to four of its soldiers who died.
Claims of substantial Chinese casualties in the Galwan Valley battle are not new.
However evidence provided by a group of social media researchers, which The Klaxon has independently built on, appears to support claims that China’s casualties extended well beyond the four soldiers named by Beijing.
It also shows extreme lengths Beijing has gone to in order to silence discussion about the battle – in particular, discussion about the true number Chinese casualties.
“It shows extreme lengths Beijing has gone to in order to silence discussion about the battle”
Indian funeral procession for an Indian solider killed in the Galwan Valley clash. Source: BBC
Beijing awarded the four medals on February 19 last year.
The following day, February 20, the Chinese Government issued a statement that a 38-year-old Nanjing journalist “Qiu Moumou” would be departing Chinese newspaper the Economic Observer for having “questioned the number of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) casualties in Galwan”.
It included a statement from China’s Economic Observer which said the journalist had posted “harmful content about current affairs” and engaged in “defaming heroes”.
“His words and deeds have nothing to do with the Economic Observer,” it said.
Other reports at the time said the reporter was arrested by China’s Ministry of State Security after making online claims, including to his 2.5 million Weibo followers, that China was lying and vastly understating its Galwan Valley casualties.
“Defaming heroes” – the February 20 statement. Source: Research report
Pakistan, India and China each stake claims to parts of the Kashmir region.
India’s long-standing disputes with Pakistan over parts of Kashmir are well-known.
Less well-known are the disputes in the region between India and China.
In the Kashmir region India and China are separated by a de facto border – the Line of Actual Control (or LAC) – however it is poorly demarcated and patrolling soldiers often cross paths.
In any event, both India and China have overlapping territorial claims.
Contested territory in the Kashmir Region. Source: BBC
On one side of the Line of Actual Control is Indian-controlled Ladakh (part of which China lays claim to) and on the other is Aksai Chin, which is controlled by China (but claimed by India).
China says Aksai Chin is part of its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The region is best known as the location where Beijing is operating concentration camps estimated to be holding over 1 million Uyghurs.
Tensions had been mounting in the Galwan Valley for several years, mainly given its strategic importance.
In around April 2020 Chinese forces began further ramping up activities in the Galwan Valley, allegedly setting up infrastructure such as tents, dugouts and machinery.
From early May 2020 skirmishes broke out between Indian and Chinese troops, not just at Galwan Valley but at various points along the China-India border, including near Pangong Lake in Ladakh and Tibet.
Disputed territory and the Galwan Valley. Source: BBC
Security experts have likened China’s actions in the area to its expansionist activities in the South China Sea and its increasing threats against Taiwan.
Not a shot was fired in the Galwan Valley battle, both sides claim.
That’s because of a 1996 agreement that banned guns or explosives from within the Line of Actual Control, with the intention of avoiding further escalation between the two nuclear-armed powers.
A report into the matter titled “Galwan Decoded” has been prepared by a group of social media researchers.
The researchers have declined to be named on security grounds, but their findings appear to shed significant light on the saga.
The report cites a year-long investigation involving discussions with mainland Chinese bloggers, information obtained from mainland-based Chinese citizens and media reports that have since been deleted by Chinese authorities.
“A lot of facts about what really happened, what led to the skirmish, have been hidden by Beijing,” the report states.
“What was told by (China) to the world were mostly fabricated stories.
“Many blogs and pages have been culled by (Chinese authorities) but digital archives of mainland China reveal a different story,” the report states.
At the heart of the claims is that many Chinese soldiers were killed while attempting to cross back over the fast-flowing Galwan River in the early stages of the June 15-16 battle.
Of the four soldiers China has confirmed died, only one – Junior Sergeant Wang Zhuoran – is reported as having drowned. The other three, PLA Battalion Commander Major Chen Hongjun, Private Chen Xiangrong and Junior Sergeant Xiao Siyuan, were killed by Indian forces.
Four killed Chinese soldiers who received posthumous medals. Source: Research report
The research report includes a document since deleted from the internet.
“In June 2020, during the border defence struggle, Wang Zhuorang’s company was ordered to perform a support mission,” the document states.
Crossing the river, “comrades in arms kept slipping and being rushed downstream”.
“Comrades in arms kept slipping and being rushed downstream” — Research report
“Wang Zhuran pushed four comrades ashore one after another but his legs became stuck by stones at the bottom of the river.
“His physical strength was too weak and he drowned,” the document states.
The Klaxon has also obtained footage of the battle, released by Chinese media in August last year, that appears to strongly support the claims.
“Rushed downstream” – documents citing Chinese losses. Source: Research report
The researchers say the deadly June 15 battle was sparked over a temporary bridge, which Indian soldiers had erected across a stream of the Galwan River three weeks earlier, on May 22.
Indian and Chinese military officials had recently agreed to a “buffer zone” along the border in attempt to “de-escalate the crisis” amid rising tensions.
Indian officials have repeatedly claimed that China had been building “illegal infrastructure” inside the zone, including erecting tents and creating dugouts and had moved heavy machinery into the area.
“According to a Weibo user alias name Qiang who claims to have served in the area, the PLA was creating infrastructure in this buffer zone, violating the mutual agreement and had been trying to expand its patrolling limits within the buffer zone since April 2020,” the researchers state.
(China state-run media outlet the Global Times has stated the “local border control situation was very clear” and that “the Galwan Valley region is Chinese territory”.)
The report states that on May 22 Indian troops, led by Colonel Santosh, Commander of the 16th Regiment of Bihar, “created a temporary walk-over bridge” over a stream of the Galwan River to allow troops to monitor Chinese activities.
An image of Indian troops reportedly taken by Chinese soldiers in the Galwan Valley. Source: Research report
“Though PLA was constructing its own infrastructure in the buffer zone, the construction of a temporary bridge by Indian troops aroused strong opposition by the Chinese,” report states.
Videos of confrontation between Chinese and Indian troops – ostensibly of the June 15-16 clash – have been broadcast by Chinese media.
The report notes that one video, of a stand-off between troops, is clearly shot “in broad daylight”, while the other video is of a clash at night.
The report states: “On June 6, 80 PLA soldiers came to dismantle the bridge and nearly 100 troops came to defend it”.
An image of Qi Fabao from Chinese media. Source: Research report
“That is when the video of the standoff was probably shot, which Chinese media claimed to be shot on 15 June, 2020”.
The report states that during the June 6 standoff, officers from both sides “agreed to withdraw all personnel who crossed the buffer zone line” and to “dismantle all the facilities that crossed the line”.
However the report says China failed to adhere to the agreement.
“PLA did not adhere to its promise…and instead of dismantling its own infrastructure as agreed upon, secretly dismantled the river crossing bridge constructed by the Indian army,” it says.
Three days later, on June 15, Colonel Santosh and his troops returned.
The Chinese forces were led by Colonel Qi Fabao.
“On 15th June 2020, Col. Santosh Babu along with his troops went to the disputed area in the Galwan Valley at night in an attempt to remove the Chinese encroachment where Col. Qi Fabao was present along with nearly 150 soldiers,” the report states.
It says that Fabao “ordered his troops to form a battle formation, instead of discussing the issue on the lines of mutual consent made on June 6, 2021”.
The report says that “the moment Col. Fabao attacked he was immediately besieged by the Indian army troops”.
“To rescue him, PLA battalion commander Chen Hongjun and soldier Chen Xiangrong entered the encirclement of Indian army and started (a) physical scuffle with Indian troops using steel pipes, sticks and stones to provide cover for (their) commander to escape”.
Reports from Chinese social media following the Galwan Valley battle. Source: Research report
It says Colonel Qi Fabao was “hit in the head by an Indian army solider”, and “rushed back with serious injuries”.
India’s Colonel Santosh Babu was killed in the fighting.
The report says China’s Hongjun and Xiangrong were “immediately silenced by the Indian army”.
Another Chinese soldier, Xiao Siyuan, “of the Motor Infantry Battalion of the 363rd Regiment, Frontier Defence, Xinjiang Military Region” had been “recording the event”.
“In the ongoing scuffle he left the camera and attacked but was severely wounded by an Indian soldier and later succumbed to his injuries,” the report states.
Chinese state media fails to cover the battle. Source: BBC/Twitter
It states that “after Col. Fabao left the arena”, and watching the “bodies of Major Chen Hongrun, Junior Sargeant Xiao Siyan and Private Chen Xianrong,” that “PLA soldiers panicked into retreat”.
“Wang Zhuoran, a 1996-born native of Luohe City, Yancheng County, Henan, came forward along with his companion Ma Ming to help his scattered retreating comrades out of danger by guiding (their) way to retreat back,” the report states.
“The PLA soldiers didn’t even have time to wear water pants. They decided to cross the icy water of the river in pitch dark under the guidance of Wang.
“The river rose suddenly and injured comrades kept slipping and (being) washed downstream”.
The report states: “Information gathered by a blogger from people who attended Wang’s funeral at Luohe Martyrs Cemetery, Henan, reveals that Junior Sergeant Wang Zhuoran pushed four of his comrades across the river successfully but his legs became stuck by stones at the bottom of the river.”
“As of this date there is no information about them anywhere in Chinese cyberspace.”
Leaders of the four Quad nations, held a summit on March 12, 2021. Source: Supplied.
Citing “several Weibo users” the report states: “at least 38 PLA troops along with Wang were washed away and drowned that night…of which only Wang was declared among the four officially dead soldiers”.
“After the incident, the bodies of the soldiers were first taken to Shiquanhe Martyr Cemetery, followed by local ceremonies at the local towns of the killed soldiers,” the report states.
“A division of Xinjiang Military Region organized officers and soldiers to go to the Shiquane Martyr Cemetery to lay flowers to to the revolutionary martyrs, organize party members to take an oath and sweep the tombs for heroes”.
After the initial deadly clash it appears both sides called for reinforcements.
It appears to be during the subsequent fighting that many of the 20 Indian soldiers were either killed, or wounded and later died of their injuries or hypothermia.
Multiple reports have stated that numerous soldiers were pushed or fell to their deaths over steep cliff edges.
The Indian Government has claimed China broke protocol and the 1996 agreement by arming soldiers with lethal weapons, including iron rods, batons wrapped in barbed wire and “clubs embedded with nails”.
Weapons allegedly used by Chinese soldiers. Source: BBC
Indian officials have provided the BBC with an image of weapons it says Chinese soldiers used during the battle.
In its 2020 year-end review, the Defence Ministry of India said China had used “unorthodox weapons”.
Footage of the daylight confrontation published by Chinese media – which the researchers say was of June 6 – show Chinese soldiers more heavily outfitted, wearing body armour, neck shields and large helmets which can cover the face against attack.
Footage of a Galwan Valley clash – most likely June 6. Source: Research report
Tensions have eased somewhat since June 2020, though experts say the Galwan Valley battle had the effect of further strengthening the so-called Quad security alliance between the US, Japan, India and Australia.
A key Quad summit was held in March 2021.
The Quad is largely seen as a move to offset the growing power and expansionist activities of China.
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