The first Chinese response on the Galwan faceoff refused to accept any Chinese casualty. Then the country said it would not reveal the number of Chinese soldiers who died in the clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan valley. The Chinese sham was, “We don’t have any information to add up.”
The next was about rebutting the Indian media claim that over 40 Chinese soldiers died in the clash. The Chinese foreign minister called it fake news. Before it, China’s state-run media Global Times had already claimed that the Chinese casualties were much less than the 20 on the Indian side. It extended the Chinese government propaganda: “The reason why China did not release the casualties number is that China also wants to avoid an escalation. If China releases the number, which is less than 20, the Indian government would again come under pressure.”
In July 2020, a US intelligence assessment asserted that China refused to give proper burial and in-person funeral to its fallen heroes that, according to Indian intercepts, were 43 in number. The US intelligence inputs said China lost 35 soldiers in the Galwan clash.
The Chinese propaganda of sham continued for eight months, until February, when it, for the first time, accepted that it lost four soldiers in the Galwan faceoff, in an attempt to put up a brave front that implied that the Indian casualty figure was much higher, at 20.
But even then Beijing did not do so on its own, but, in fact, was forced to accept the truth.
First, it was Russia, a country that, while friendly with India, is also getting very close to China with Chinese President Xi Jinping calling Russian President Vladimir Putin his best friend these days. Denying a report from that country’s state-run news agencies was going to be very difficult.
Russia’s state-affiliated media TASS came out with a report that put the number of Chinese soldiers dead in the Galwan clash at 45. Now unlike the news from some American sources, which China outright denies as anti-China propaganda, this came from a country that is now a good friend of China.
It was further corroborated by Lt Gen YK Joshi, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command. In an exclusive interview with CNN-News18, Lt Gen YK Joshi said, “I don’t want to make an estimate. We were able to pick up a large number of casualties which were being picked up in stretchers and taken back. More than 60 actually, but they were fatal or non-fatal, we can’t say with authority so I will not hazard a figure on that. But you are aware that recently the Russian agency TASS had put out a figure of 45 and I think that could be the figure we can look at. It could be more as well.”
But the country that has border disputes with around two dozen other nations tried to dilute it.
China, in the 21st century, still lives with the false pride of imposing and winning the 1962 war against India and forcibly occupying 20% of its territory in Jammu & Kashmir; it cannot easily admit that it lost more soldiers than India in a clash.
A report in The Print in March 2021 said even different groups of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were not sure of the Chinese casualty figure in the clash. Different teams negotiating the troop disengagement options at Ladakh friction points quoted different numbers like 4 or 9 or 14. It means China was running propaganda machinery aimed at even its own officials and PLA representatives and soldiers.
Why China lied – First, it was the usual Chinese propaganda
China has always maintained this shade of opaqueness to show itself as always having an upper hand over India. It always quotes the 1962 war victory whenever India and China see increased tensions. China claims the whole of Arunachal Pradesh and calls it part of south Tibet. China doesn’t recognise Ladakh as a union territory of the Government of India and always tries to intrude into it. And China is already sitting on Indian land occupied in the Indian union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
China does it all through its army, the PLA, and wolf-warrior diplomatic style, and accepting that the world’s projected superpower that is trying to corner the only superpower of the world, the US, lost more than twice the soldiers in a clash with India that it claims to have soundly defeated in the 1962 war, occupying some geographically strategic portions of its territory, would not only have frustrated the PLA officials and soldiers but the overall Chinese Communist Party (CPC) leadership led by Xi Jinping who wants to spread its expansionist agenda throughout the world.
Beijing, like in the past, tried to erect a wall of lies, because it was under huge domestic pressure on reports across the globe confirming that China lost more soldiers and Xi’s political rivals could have used it against him to corner him.
So, the first response was an outright rebuttal. But when it was not possible to deny it anymore, it tried to show that Chinese soldiers, actually, had the upper hand in the clash.
Second, it was stunned by an aggressive India this time
India, this time, was in an advantageous position, captured many strategic heights in Eastern Ladakh, and could monitor PLA movements. It was combined with increased military strength and permanent troop deployment, a clear departure from the past.
To cut it short, India was in a superior position this time post the Galwan faceoff and clearly told China that disengagement this time means “simultaneous and equal from both sides that addresses future security concerns".
China didn’t want to give India any upper hand in the talks. To negotiate with a changed and more aggressive India, Beijing needed level-minded Chinese teams on the discussion table and that would not be a possibility if PLA was represented as a loser force. China needed a team of its wolf warrior diplomatic officials and PLA soldiers to stall, prolong or backstab India, as if they were on a superior side and India needed to bow down.
China, thus, needed motivated heroes and not fallen soldiers to discuss the troop disengagement and convince India to move back from the friction points. China did not want demoralised PLA cadres on the discussion table with India. So, it decided to keep even most of the PLA troops behind the wall of its lies and counterclaims.
Eleven rounds of corps commander talks have been held so far. China now proposes major general-level talks for troop disengagement. India and China have followed mutual disengagement from the north and south banks of Pangong Tso but China is not willing to pull back any further, from the Depsang Plains, Gogra and Hot Springs. And it is not ready to commit any future disengagement from the friction areas as well.