Chinese commander wounded in Galwan Valley says soldiers would rather die than lose an inch of territory. Relations between the two countries are at a crossroads nearly a year after the incident, Indian foreign minister says

Nearly a year after a deadly clash on its border with India, China has reasserted its claims to the area, with a survivor of the confrontation saying he was willing to give his life to safeguard the country’s sovereignty. In a ceremony to commemorate military martyrs on Friday, Qi Fabao, a Chinese regimental commander who sustained head wounds in the attack, said he was not afraid of making the sacrifice.

“If the army is compared to a sharp sword, then the blood of the soldier is the edge. We have no fear of sacrifice, and always hold the belief that we would rather sacrifice our lives than lose an inch of our territory,” state broadcaster CCTV quoted him as saying on Friday. “We will march forward in battle, and go forward courageously. Go forward and die … This is the determination of the frontier soldiers to serve the country.”

Qi, from the People’s Liberation Army Xinjiang military command, was wounded in the clash in the Galwan Valley on June 15. Four Chinese soldiers and at least 20 Indian military personnel were killed in the confrontation.

Qi was given a hero award in February by the Chinese military, along with battalion commander Chen Hongjun, who was honoured posthumously. Chen Xiangrong, Xiao Siyuan and Wang Zhuoran were posthumously given first-class merit awards.

The PLA Daily said at that time the soldiers went with Qi to try to negotiate in the disputed border area. They were waist-deep in a river crossing when they were “violently ambushed” by troops who outnumbered them and who “premeditatedly hid” and “tried to force the Chinese military to concede”, the report said.

The Chinese soldiers defended the sovereignty of the country amid attacks of “steel tubes, cudgels and stones”, according to the report. Qi organised his soldiers into combat formations and engaged the Indian troops, sustaining a serious head injury in the attack.

The report said “relevant foreign military” trespassed over the China-India border line to build roads and bridges, and had intentionally incited trouble since April 2020.

The incident was the most serious clash between the two nations in decades, and the impact has persisted. Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said last month that “profoundly disturbed” ties were at a crossroads.

“If you disturb the peace and tranquillity, if you have bloodshed … if there is intimidation, if there is continuing friction on the border then obviously it is going to tell on the relationship,” he said.

But China has tried to improve relations, encouraging companies and offering donations of pandemic aid to India to help with its flood of coronavirus cases. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China would also ease customs clearance for aid for India.

Liu Zongyi, an associate research fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said it was just a coincidence that Qi’s lecture was held close to the first anniversary of China-India border clashes in the Galwan Valley.

“These are two separate events,” Liu said. “Qi was badly wounded so it took him a long time to recover before being able to attend some public events.”

The armed forces of China and India last held border talks in April, with little progress despite 11-hour marathon negotiations, raising concerns that conflicts could be reignited in the summer.

While both sides have disengaged troops and artillery from the banks of the Pangong Tso lake since February, Indian Army chief General M.M. Naravane confirmed earlier that 50,000 to 60,000 Indian troops remain deployed along the Line of Actual Control. At the same time, China’s People’s Liberation Army has upgraded its military facilities in its high-altitude border regions.

Liu said large-scale conflicts were unlikely but China should be cautious about small skirmishes.

“China’s military deployment at the border is far more advanced than India’s,” Liu said. “But China may be vigilant for small tricks by the Indian side.”