The incident on June 15 in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed and at least 76 injured along the contested border in the western Himalayas was “entirely the responsibility of India”, a spokesman for China’s defence ministry said in a press conference on June 24.
Beijing has been reluctant to comment publicly on any casualties from the incident.
Sources said that Chinese soldiers received only “light injuries” during the skirmish with Indian soldiers in the Galwan Valley.
On June 23, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian dismissed as “fake news” Indian media reports which claimed 40 Chinese soldiers had been killed.
Three separate sources said that only a small number of PLA officers were injured during the brawl. They did not give a definite number, but said China’s casualty count was much lower than India’s and Beijing had remained silent to avoid provoking New Delhi and escalating tensions.
Wu Qian, China’s defence ministry spokesman, said on June 24 that the clash was caused by India’s provocation.
“This incident took place solely due to India breaking the consensus [between the two sides] and its unilateral provocation … [it] took place on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control, he said, referring to the demarcation line at the China-India border.
“The responsibility is on India entirely,” he asserted.
According to Wu, the skirmish took place on June 15 after Indian soldiers “transgressed” on to the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
“On the night of June 15, one unit of Indian border troops blatantly violated the consensus reached between the two sides, and once again crossed over the Line of Actual Control to provoke the Chinese side, breaking their earlier promises,” Wu said. “While Chinese soldiers approached to negotiate, they were suddenly violently attacked by the Indian soldiers. This started the violent clashes among the soldiers from both sides and resulted in casualties.”
Wu’s account was different to that offered by Indian external affairs ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava.
He said earlier that India blamed the clashes on China, which “departed from the consensus to respect the Line of Actual Control in the Galwan Valley”, and that Indian activities had always been “within the Indian side of the LAC”.
Wu emphasized that China and India are important neighbours to each other, and “maintaining peace and tranquillity in the border area is in the common interests of both parties and requires the joint efforts of both parties”.
“We hope that the Indian side can meet the Chinese halfway … to solve the related issues through talks and negotiations at different levels, and to work together in easing the border tension and maintain peace and tranquillity in the border region,” he said.
According to official reports from both sides, India and Chinese military leaders have agreed to reduce tensions.
Spokesman Zhao said the two sides “agreed to take necessary measures to lower the temperature”.
Military and diplomatic leaders from China and India have held frequent meetings but Beijing has issued little information about them.
“Throughout this entire conflict, there has been a tight-lipped approach from China,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Although there were very sources of information from the Chinese side, private discussions were being held through military, diplomatic and other channels, he said.
“Publicly, we have had some short statements and claims about ‘fake news’ from the foreign ministry, and some important glimpses of information, combined with attacks on India, through outlets like the Global Times, but that’s about it,” he said.
The day after the deadly clashes, senior colonel Zhang Shuili of China’s Western Theatre Command said that China had always had sovereignty over the Galwan valley region, and called on India to return to talks.
“Trust levels are very low on both sides,” Kondapalli said. “Communication is fine, but what’s next? Unfortunately, both sides will fall back on the limited use of force option.”
Wang Dehua, a South Asia specialist at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies, said that while there had been little information about what had happened at the high-level talks, the fact there had been so many meeting was encouraging.
“While the violence this month was very unfortunate, I feel the leaders have shown a very positive attitude in their meetings,” he said.
“The amount of discussion is better than it was during the Doklam stand-off in 2017. At that time, I was very concerned that a fight would break out, but it did not. We have learned since then and discussions are the right way forward,” he said, referring to the month-long border stand-off between India and China to the east of the latest clashes.