Asia Communique — Week 21

China reveals names of Galwan soldiers (long edition)— Disengagement at LAC

China reveals names of Galwan soldiers

In the early hours of February 19, the People’s Liberation Army released the names of five soldiers present in Galwan Valley in June 2020. The names were published in the story put out on the front page of PLA Daily.

China has made three revelations with regards to the Galwan clash:

  1. Released the names of the five soldiers and the description of the honorary titles awarded to the soldiers.

  2. Shared an account of the Galwan clash in a narrativized style.

  3. Chinese state media aired a clip of Indian and Chinese soldiers confronting each other.

Names of the soldiers that died in Galwan Valley are:

  1. Chen Xiangrong (Solider)

  2. Chen Hongjun (Solider)

  3. Xiao Siyuan (Solider)

  4. Wang Zhuoran (Commander of an infantry battalion)

The other individual mentioned in PLA’s account is Qi Fabao (Commander of a border defence regiment), who did survive the clash. A picture of Qi Fabao with a neck cast was shared on Weibo.

Here is part of the account issued by PLA:

“During the previous negotiations and fierce struggle, Qi Fabao, the Commander of a border defense regiment of the Xinjiang Military Region, took the lead and was seriously injured; the battalion Commander Chen Hongjun and soldier Chen Xiangrong broke into the heavy siege, rescued and fought back. Sacrificed, Warrior Xiao Siyuan, after breaking through the siege, returned to rescue his comrades without hesitation and fought to the last moment of his life; Warrior Wang Zhuoran, on the way to support before crossing the river, tried his best to rescue the dispersed comrades from danger, but he was submerged in the glacier. These heroic border guards left youth, blood, and even life in the Karakoram Plateau, building a majestic boundary monument. The Central Military Commission awarded Qi Fabao the honorary title of "Heroic Commander of the Frontier Defence" and posthumously awarded the honorary title of "Heroes defending the country and guarding the border" to Chen Hongjun, giving Chen Xiangrong, Xiao Siyuan, and Wang Zhuoran the first-class merits.”

The account by PLA highlights two different events. First, the PLA’s statement talks about May 2020.

“It was early May 2020. Foreign troops crossed the line to provoke troubles. Li Quexiang and Chen Xiangrong went forward to deal with them urgently.”

This section has blurbs from Chen Xiangrong’s diary writing in May 2020.

Second, the statement talks about June 2020 and the clash between soldiers at Galwan Valley.

“In June 2020, foreign troops blatantly violated the consensus reached with us and crossed the line to set up tents. In accordance with the usual practice of handling border incidents and the agreement reached by the two parties before, the head of the delegation, Qi Fabao, was in good faith in negotiating to solve the problem, bringing only a few officers and soldiers to negotiate with him through the waist-deep river. During the negotiation process, the other party ignored our sincerity and premeditatedly hid and mobilized a large number of troops in an attempt to force us to back down by virtue of a large number of people,” said PLA’s statement.

The time of the day in the clip is relatively hard to determine since the events unfold in a valley, and no sunlight can leave a shadow. But we can observe that the light in the frame is rather dim, which suggests the conversation between Qi Fabao and the Indian side took place during the evening.

The Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) can be seen in the clip. We know from reporting by Indian media that ITBP personnel were present in Galwan on June 15.

We also know from the account put out by the ITBP that the clash in the Galwan Valley took place in the late hours. In one section of the video, both sides' soldiers seem to be clashing in the dark.

Watch the full clip here:

The commentary, along with the video, isn’t quite different from PLA’s account that I had referenced above. Qi Fabao is at the centre of the narration, and the commentary says that he confronted the “foreign troops”. The account and the video clip don’t directly mention India. They either use “foreign troops” or refer to the “Karakorum region”.

As many experts have already pointed out, the PLA account only says that these are the 5 soldiers awarded the honorary title at this time. This leaves room for further questioning if the actual number of soldiers killed on June 15 is higher than what PLA has revealed — this is up for speculation.

On February 10, the PLA put out a video of soldiers paying respect to the past wars' martyrs at the Kangxiwa Cemetry. This is the cemetery where the soldiers that died in the 1962 war and subsequent conflicts in the area have been buried.

The hashtag “4 PLA officers and soldiers died in the Sino-Indian border conflict” was the 3rd trend on Twitter-like Chinese social media platform Weibo.

The search term “Video of the conflict in the Galwan Valley between China and India released” was the number 1 trend on the Chinese search engine Baidu.

On Weibo, the hashtag “India” was the fourth trend on Saturday.

Other prominent Weibo trends:

#Ten details on the scene of the Sino-Indian border conflict# —viewed 2.89 million times (just began trending at the time of writing).

#Video of the conflict in the Galwan valley is released# — viewed 1.5 billion times.

The video clip showing the confrontation between the Chinese and Indian sides has further provoked social media users. Some Weibo users said that Indians should be banned from entering businesses in China. There was an outpouring of grief, and an outright nationalistic tone on Weibo was observed. The clip was edited so that it shows the PLA soldiers at a disadvantage and the Indian side comes across as the aggressor. The hashtag “Ten details on the scene of the Sino-Indian border conflict” was based on ten points that say that the Indian side was the aggressor.

“The Galwan Valley conflict in June last year resulted in casualties on both sides. The responsibility lies entirely with the Indian side. Bearing in mind the overall interests of relations between the two countries and the two militaries, China has exercised a high degree of restraint to cool down and ease the situation, which shows its magnanimity and high sense of responsibility major country. However, the Indian side has repeatedly sensationalized and hyped up this incident with the casualties and distorted the truth to mislead the international public opinion,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying.

There are many other angles to the account put out by PLA. Keeping the length of the newsletter in mind, I will not expand on all the aspects. Feel free to follow me on Twitter for rest of the analysis: https://twitter.com/aadilbrar

“India is poised to clear some new investment proposals from China in the coming weeks as frosty relations between the two neighbouring countries thawed amid an easing in border tensions, said three government officials with knowledge of the matter”, reported Reuters.

India has 'given in' to China's 1959 claim on LAC: Lt Gen HS Panag (Retd) — The Economic Times

Commander of the Indian Army's Northern Command Lt General YK Joshi gave wide-ranging interviews to various Indian media outlets.

“We mutually agreed that disengagement will happen in four steps. Step one would be the disengagement of the armour and the mech [mechanical regiments] on the R2 (RR) complex” said Lt Gen YK Joshi.

In one of the interviews, Lt Gen YK Joshi said that the two countries were on the brink of war around August 30. Gen Joshi was talking about when India was able to control the strategic heights on the Kailash range.
'Early Days, Mustn't Draw Big Conclusions on Chinese Withdrawal': Former NSA I Karan Thapar — The Wire

An interesting map with annotations was shared on Weibo. The map annotated all the strategic positions such as Black Top, Reqin La pass, and others in Chinese. The map is handy to correspond to Chinese social media users' locations while talking about the Southern Bank of Pangang Tso. The map helps confirm the use of the term 普尔楚边防, which is the reference to PLA deployment at 5681 meters next to Spangur Tso. The Chinese state media have referenced this particular border defence company in the past without revealing the location. The disengagement at the Souther Bank of Pangang Tso is still unclear, even though both sides have now withdrawn their tanks deployed at Reqin La pass.

Disengagement at Line of Actual Control

“Making significant headway in attempts to resolve the nine-month military standoff along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, Chinese and Indian troops have completed the first phase of disengagement on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, and their senior commanders will meet Saturday morning to discuss the pullback of troops from the other friction points in the region” reported Indian Express.

“What I can tell you is that both sides are in close communication via diplomatic and military channels on the border situation, and both are advancing the disengagement process. As for the specifics, I refer you to the Ministry of National Defense. China's position on the border issue is clear-cut. India is an important neighbour, and the restoration of a sound, stable China-India relationship serves the common aspiration and interests of both peoples. We hope the Indian side can work with China in the same direction,” said Hua Chunying.

Don’t Miss Out

“Taiwan's Presidential Office on Friday announced a reshuffle of three Cabinet-level officials, replacing the leaders of the Ministry of National Defense, the National Security Bureau and the Mainland Affairs Council,” reported Focus Taiwan.

“Hong Kong’s High Court has refused to grant bail to media mogul Jimmy Lai, who has been in custody since early December over alleged violations of the national security law. The court rejected his new bail application on Thursday after judge Anthea Pang said there was not enough evidence that he would refrain from acts endangering national security if released,” reported HKFP.

China’s Military-Civil Fusion Strategy: What to Expect in the Next Five Years — Defense One

Factors Shaping China's Use of Force Calculations Against Taiwan — RAND