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China cannot accept body bags The Excelsior 04 Mar 2021
The Global Times, China’s official mouthpiece, commenting in an article of 20th Feb, post the announcement of Chinese casualties in the Galwan Clash, stated, ‘While the Chinese are mourning for the four young soldiers killed in last year’s border conflicts with Indian troops after China officially revealed the details of casualties, some Indian media and netizens are instead still hyping up China’s casualties and doubting the timing of China’s release of the information.’ It added, ‘The report led Chinese netizens to flood social media platforms mourning the heroes who fought and made sacrifices for the country, praying for peace.’
China also released few video’s claiming them to be of the Galwan Clash, mostly doctored. Simultaneously, Chinese bloggers who questioned these fake figures were arrested, adding doubts on the figures released.
China was compelled to declare its figures after Russian news agency Tass mentioned 45 casualties as also a day earlier, the Indian Northern army commander, General YK Joshi, commented on the subject. General Joshi stated, ‘I don’t want make an estimate. …We were able to pick up large number of casualties which were being picked up in stretchers and taken back. More than 60 actually, but whether 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.’
The Global Times defended the Chinese government’s action of delaying declaring casualties by stating in an editorial, ‘the Chinese side chose to unveil the details of the four PLA martyrs now because China did not want to hype domestic national sentiment. If China unveiled the details during the Galwan Valley border clash, then it would cause anger across China.’ China has historically hidden as also delayed releasing its true casualty figures. It declared, only partially, its 1962 war casualties in 1994 and has yet to announce its losses in the Vietnam war of 1979.
Inputs from reliable sources mention that the Chinese battalion, involved in the Galwan clash, suffered intense trauma. Post the clash, it was withdrawn to the rear and subsequently moved to a rest and recoup centre in Yunnan province. Most Chinese soldiers are conscript, having joined to gain advantage of the Chinese communist system and exploit their military service to further their careers. They are neither hardened, imbibed with national spirit nor possess war experience. They are all single children, with multiple family responsibilities, pampered and soft.
The single child norm has impacted Chinese psychology and therefore its public is unwilling to accept loss of lives. The anger within China on the announced casualty figures was such that the Indian embassy Weibo site was flooded with hate messages for days. Had China declared its true casualty figures, anger would have risen against their own government. It is to prevent this anger and frustration, caused by its single child norm, that the Chinese have always sought to grab territory while avoiding tough military action. Simultaneously, they fear declaring casualty figures.
The army chief had discussed this Chinese strategy when he mentioned in a seminar at the Vivekananda International Foundation, last week, ‘China has been in the habit of creeping power, making very small, incremental changes wherein each change by itself was not very big or worthy of a very strong reaction. And because of these small, incremental moves which were never contested, it has been able to achieve its aims without firing a shot or without any loss of life. And what has happened in the South China Sea is a very glaring example of that. I think more than anything else, what we have achieved is to show that this strategy will not work with us. And every move will be met resolutely.’ The Indian physical reaction to Chinese nibbling actions, leading to casualties on their side compelled it to change its policies.
Another casualty figure which China hid from its public is its losses due to adverse weather conditions in Ladakh. The Chinese rotated their troops far more frequently than India did and even displayed their troop living conditions as part of information warfare, however continued to suffer casualties.
A report from the Taiwan Times of 26th Nov states, ‘casualty evacuation of PLA troops through helicopters and stretchers has been observed on a daily basis, with an average of one PLA soldier succumbing to altitude and temperature-related ailments every day. Morale and motivation at the posts have also dipped below the freezing point.’ Total Chinese casualties, when considering both Galwan and weather, if announced, would be staggering, adding to internal anger. This is also a reason why the Chinese accepted disengagement.
When the US engaged in operations in Afghanistan and Iran, the world believed that the American public would rise in anger when body bags returned home. This was based on the experiences of the Vietnam war. Thus, grew the perception that the US would never intervene where it could suffer large casualties. To prevent its public from rising in anger, on arriving body bags from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US justified its actions as revenge for the attack on US soil as also protecting the mainland from similar attacks in the future. It was successful.
Chinese actions against its neighbours have been bullying and attempting to grab territory without loss of lives. Its last misadventure was in Vietnam, where it suffered heavy casualties and was forced to pull back. All of China’s current actions are offensive, though within the country, the CCP has been projecting them as defending itself against hostile neighbours. In all its nibbling actions, there has been no loss of lives. It has employed this philosophy because it is aware that loss of lives, in a nation, ruled by a single child norm, can be disastrous.
Ladakh, and within it, Galwan was the first time China suffered heavy casualties, in recent times, and it brought to fore the fear within the Chinese government of declaring figures as they could lead to internal anger and unrest. It therefore tested waters by releasing a small number of losses. Angry responses suggest that China will never declare its true losses of Ladakh.
The lesson which flows is that the best reaction to any Chinese nibbling action must be offensive, as China fears returning body bags. This weakness must be exploited by nations which China challenges.