Indian and Chinese officers meeting in Ladakh last week, as troops began withdrawing from the contested border © AP

China has admitted for the first time that four of its soldiers died during a clash with Indian forces in the Himalayas last year.

The revelation in China’s official military newspaper was made as both sides began pulling back troops to defuse the bloody border confrontation in eastern Ladakh.

The People’s Liberation Army Daily reported on Friday that four soldiers had died while fighting with “foreign military” in June. It was the first official narrative given by Beijing about what took place in the border skirmish. Immediately after the clash, India said 21 of its troops had been killed.

Beijing waited eight months before reporting the deaths because “China does not want to overheat the issue”, said Wang Dehua from the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

“China keeps a low profile when dealing with India. Back in June, China-Indian relations were intense. But now the China-India border conflict has eased,” said Wang.

Military honours were awarded to the four dead soldiers, who were named as Chen Hongjun, Chen Xiangrong, Xiao Siyuan and Wang Zhuoran. The first three were killed in the fight while Wang died trying to cross a river to help his comrades.

The vicious clash between the troops marked the first time either side had suffered fatalities since 1975 despite long-simmering tensions over the border. It threatened to undo decades of efforts to boost political and economic ties after China and India fought a war along the border in 1962.

After months of facing off, Chinese and Indian troops this month began pulling back their forces in an attempt to defuse tensions.

Friday’s PLA Daily article also alleged that Indian forces had moved beyond an agreed line of control and were the first to attack, with Chinese soldiers hit with steel tubes and stones.

On Friday afternoon, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said “the Indian side played up the incident to distort the truth and mislead international public opinion.

“The report will help people to know the truth and also pay tribute to our heroes.”

India claims that China breached the border, encroaching on its territory. “The agreements and protocols that existed between India and China were unilaterally violated by China,” Lieutenant General YK Joshi, India’s northern army commander, told media this week.

The admission of four Chinese deaths contradicts Indian sources who, for months, have suggested that the PLA lost far more soldiers than India.

Joshi, in the first public comments from the army, said this week that Indian troops had observed “more than 60” fatal or non-fatal casualties on the Chinese side after the clash.

Tensions escalated again in August when China and India sent troops to jockey for control of strategic points along the border. Joshi said this week that the countries at the time “were absolutely on the brink” of war.

Both armies have now begun drawing down tanks and troops and dismantling structures along the Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh. The withdrawal is designed to return forces to the positions they held before violence erupted last year.

But Chinese and Indian troops continue to face off in other spots along the border. Indian officials have warned that points of friction remain and that further negotiations will take place once the disengagement at Pangong Tso lake is complete.

Additional reporting by Xinning Liu

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