KEY POINTS

  • Before the June 15 skirmish, India and China were building up troops on the border in the northern India region of Ladakh and the southwestern Chinese region of Aksai Chin
  • A private geo-intelligence firm reported satellite imagery showed a buildup on the Chinese side of what appeared to be armed personnel carriers and self-propelled artillery
  • General Zhao Zongqi  saw the faceoff last week as an opportunity to "teach India a lesson”

The question that is most often asked after carrying out a plan with disastrous result is: What were you thinking? Facing that question is General Zhao Zongqi of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) who authorized his forces to attack Indian troops in the Galwan River valley last week.

Before the June 15 skirmish that killed 20 Indian and 35 Chinese soldiers, both countries had been building up troops on the border in the northern India region of Ladakh and the southwestern Chinese region of Aksai Chin.

Hawkeye 360, a private geo-intelligence firm, reported satellite imagery from May showed a buildup on the Chinese side of what appeared to be armed personnel carriers and self-propelled artillery. China has accused India of building infrastructure such as roads in areas Beijing claims as its own.

There was an agreement made in early June by senior leaders from each country to disarm and mutually withdraw from the region.

General Zhao is head of the PLA’s Western Theater Command and has overseen earlier standoffs with India. Fearful of what Chinese leaders call exploitation by the United States and its allies, including New Delhi, he had previously expressed concerns China must not appear weak. The general, himself a combat veteran, saw the faceoff last week as an opportunity to "teach India a lesson”, according to the anonymous source.

That same source, who is familiar with the assessment of the June 15 incident by the U.S. intelligence, said the following sequences of events took place:

  • A senior Indian officer and two non-commissioned officers traveled unarmed to a meeting place where they expected to be greeted by a comparable delegation of Chinese troops
  • Instead, dozens of Chinese troops were waiting with spiked bats and clubs and began an attack
  • Other Indian troops came to support, leading to a melee that caused more casualties from the improvised weapons, rocks, and falls from the steep terrain

China is claiming the battle was just the result of tense circumstances that unintentionally spiraled out of control. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in a press conference Friday said the blame lay solely with India because of its “deliberate provocation when the situation in the Galwan Valley was already easing.”

If there was a plan, then it backfired and any attempts for Beijing to form closer ties to the second most populous country has instead pushed it toward the U.S., China’s main global adversary. That consequence could be a tremendous blow to the already uneasy Chinese economy.

In the U.S. and India, a similar incident would draw massive attention from the media. Military leaders and the government would undergo great scrutiny to determine who knew what, and when did they know it. In China, the state media outlets have all but erased the incident from their pages in the week since it took place.

Social media posts that mention "defeat" and "humiliation" about dead or injured Chinese troops face the wrath of Chinese censors. It is not clear if Chinese President Xi Jinping was aware of the situation, but he remains immune from any official fallout over it.

The Trump administration believes India and its vast economic resources are already turning to the U.S. for support. That could explain why usually bellicose Donald Trump is remaining silent, allowing China to become its own worst enemy.

That unknown source said it best, "It does the very opposite of what China wanted. This is not a victory for China's military."

The border claims by India, China and Pakistan in and around the Galwan valley are complex The border claims by India, China and Pakistan in and around the Galwan valley are complex Photo: AFP / STAFF