Multiple Indian news outlets published photos on Wednesday alleging to show Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers approaching their Indian counterparts on the border with spears, machetes, and other rudimentary weapons.
The outlets publishing the photos indicated that the unnamed individuals who took the photos did so this week in the region where an India-China clash on Monday led to the first shots fired there in 45 years. Both sides accused the other of firing the shots, which would have violated the long-established rules of engagement before India allowed soldiers to carry weapons this summer.
Tensions on the two nations’ border, which crosses through the Himalayas and covers extremely challenging terrain, escalated rapidly in June when a confrontation between the two militaries resulted in the deadliest clash between them in nearly half a century. Indian officials stated that troops approached their PLA counterparts in the Galwan Valley, located in India’s Ladakh region, after they notice the Chinese had pitched tents and established themselves on Indian land. The Chinese reportedly responded by attacking them with rocks and sticks wrapped in barbed wire. At least 20 Indian troops died in the exchange and Indian military officials have confirmed about twice that number of Chinese casualties. China has refused to disclose its death count.
Indian troops then intercepted a group of hundreds of Chinese forces last week appearing to be en route to taking over a strategic mountaintop over Pangong Tso, a lake that straddles the two countries. The Indians expelled the PLA forces and established their own base over the mountaintop, a move China branded an invasion.
Chinese troops reportedly attempted to take the mountaintop back on Monday but failed. In that exchange, both the Indians and the Chinese agree that some soldiers shot firearms. Beijing claims only the Indian soldiers shot at Chinese troops, while Indian reports indicate that the Chinese shot first, but Indian soldiers later fired warning shots to keep them away from Indian territory.
In what appears to be an attempt to justify the Indian soldiers’ actions, unnamed sources have leaked photos to Indian media showing PLA troops heavily armed with what Indian network NDTV described as “medieval-style weapons of war” that may have resulted in a similar massacre to the Galwan Valley incident.
NDTV described the weapons in the photos as “automatic rifles” and spears.
“This is the first direct evidence of the mass use of medieval-style weapons of war by the Chinese army. Every single soldier is seen with spears and rifles in the images,” the network reported. “Photos accessed by NDTV show Chinese soldiers standing near Indian positions of Rezang La and Mukhpari yesterday.”
NDTV reported that the Chinese soldiers fired their rifles, contradicting the Communist Party’s official account.
India Today, another news organization in the country, also published the photos, claiming to have independently acquired them from unnamed sources. The photos appear to be the same and India Today concurred that they were taken on Monday along the India-China border, formally known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India Today asserted the soldiers in the photo were the same soldiers that clashed with Indian troops that day, implying that Indian soldiers took the photos prior to the exchange.
“The pictures accessed by India Today TV show around 30 Chinese soldiers holding weapons, including guns, spears and machetes,” the outlet reported. “The government sources [said] the Chinese troops carried rods, spears and sharp weapons while aggressively approaching Indian post in eastern Ladakh … The Indian Army has also said that PLA troops fired 10-15 rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate their own troops and the Indian troops did not give in to the provocation by the Chinese military.”
— Abhishek Bhalla (@AbhishekBhalla7) September 8, 2020
The army of communist Party of China with long Spears & machetes. Caught on camera at #RezangLa. Spotted by alert Indian army jawans & warned not to advance. Chinese army exposed. Claim to want peace but their bullying tactics continue at #LAC. India outwits #China. #IndiaFirst pic.twitter.com/LIk0PtIPoK
— GAURAV C SAWANT (@gauravcsawant) September 8, 2020
Chinese officials have not commented on the legitimacy of the photos at press time.
If proven to be real photos of PLA troops intimidating Indian soldiers on Monday, the images would corroborate Indian government arguments that the soldiers acted correctly in firing warning shots, intimidated by the prospect of another mass killing like the one occurring in June. An unnamed Indian official told the Times of India in an article published Wednesday that the exchange on Monday succeeded in preventing fighting, but that PLA troops remained in the area seeking to dilodge the reportedly thousands of Indian troops on the Pangong Tso area peak.
“Around 40 PLA soldiers are still there, within shouting distance of our position at the top. Our well-entrenched troops are standing their ground,” the Times of India quoted the official as saying. “At no stage has the Indian Army transgressed across the LAC or resorted to use of any aggressive means, including firing.”
The newspaper noted that an official Indian Army statement accused the PLA of firing their rifles.
“When dissuaded by our troops, PLA personnel fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate our troops. However, despite the grave provocation, our troops exercised great restraint and behaved in a mature and responsible manner,” the statement reportedly read. “It is the PLA that has been blatantly violating agreements and carrying out aggressive maneuvers, while engagements at military, diplomatic and political level are in progress.”
China’s Foreign Ministry insisted on Tuesday that any violent exchange between the two nuclear powers was exclusively the fault of the Indian government, asserting that the mountaintop in dispute is firmly in Chinese territory and, thus, Indian troops are colonizing a part of China.
“On September 7, the Indian troops illegally crossed the line into the Shenpao Mountain region on the southern bank of the Pangong Lake in the western sector of the China-India border and blatantly fired shots to threaten the Chinese border patrol personnel who approached them for representations,” Communist Party regime spokesman Zhao Lijian said. “The Chinese troops had no choice but to take measures in response to stabilize and control the situation on the ground. The Indian side’s behavior is a grave violation of relevant bilateral agreements, which heightened tensions and made the situation highly susceptible to misunderstanding and miscalculation. This is a serious military provocation of an egregious nature.”
“The Indian side is entirely responsible. Not an inch of China’s territory shall be lost,” Zhao affirmed.