China has for the first time named four soldiers of its People's Liberation Army (PLA), who died during a border clash with Indian Army troops in eastern Ladakh's Galwan Valley in June last year, and said that they were awarded, according to reports on Friday.
This comes nine months after China refused to disclose details of casualties in the bloodied fight with India.
"Chen Hongjun, Chen Xiangrong, Xiao Siyuan and Wang Zhuoran died a fierce struggle" against "foreign troops" that violated an agreement and crossed into the Chinese side, Reuters reported citing Chinese media reports.
Chen Xiangrong was posthumously awarded the title of "Guardian of the Frontier Hero," while the other three men were also given first-class merit citations, Reuters added.
China has also acknowledged that the colonel, who led the troops against India was seriously injured, has been conferred with honorary title, a report by Chinese state media People's Daily stated.
India and China witnessed a prolonged border row that erupted in May last year and after their troops clashed in June in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. The clash happened along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) where rival soldiers were caught in a stand-off that began with a confrontation between rival patrols near Pangong Tso on the night of May 5-6.
The soldiers were seen fighting each other with nail-studded clubs and stones. While India had previously stated that 20 of its soldiers died in the clash, Beijing had acknowledged casualties but had not disclosed details.
India posthumously honoured five Indian Army soldiers, who blocked PLA aggression to capture territory in east Ladakh’s Galwan Valley on June 15 last year, with gallantry medals on Republic Day this year.
In the seven-hour conflict along the Line of Actual Control, the first in more than five decades, Indian soldiers had retaliated in full measure when the Chinese troops refused to withdraw from a location near Patrolling Point 14 in line with the agreement reached between the two countries and triggered the clash. The PLA troops had come prepared with barbed wire sticks and spears.
At its peak, the violent clash involved more than 600 rival soldiers with a majority of casualties on both sides due to hypothermia with the soldiers getting pushed out of the cliff into the freezing Galwan river.
From the start of the skirmish, India had maintained that China tried to change the status quo as the PLA troops tried to transgress into Indian territory near the southern bank of Pangong Tso. The Chinese state media has consistently blamed India for the clash – an allegation that has been firmly and consistently denied by New Delhi.
After months of disengagement talks, the two nuclear powers earlier this month agreed to pull back their troops, tanks and other equipment from the banks of Pangong Tso in the Ladakh region. Disengagement between rival soldiers deployed on heights on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso began on February 10 and is nearing completion.
While PLA has retreated to its base east of Finger 8 on the north bank of Pangong Tso, India is moving back to its permanent position near Finger 3. Neither side will patrol the contested areas in between until an agreement is reached through future talks.
In a statement in Parliament on February 11, defence minister Rajnath Singh said that structures built by both sides after April 2020 at heights on both banks of the lake will be removed. PLA had set up scores of structures in the Finger Area including bunkers, pillboxes, observation posts and tented camps.