High-resolution satellite imagery sourced by NDTV confirms that China may be constructing at least two large, interconnected villages well within the territory of Bhutan.
These lie less than 30 km from the Doklam plateau where India and China had a tense stand-off in 2017 when Indian soldiers physically blocked Chinese road construction activity.
Since then, China has bypassed Indian positions to resume road construction activity from another axis, just nine kilometres from the Doklam face-off site. It has also constructed at least one full-fledged village, first identified by NDTV, with satellite images in November 2020.
According to Damien Symon, a leading GEOINT researcher at Intel Lab, who first identified the new sites in November last year, this is ”irrefutable evidence of ongoing construction and development activity in an area disputed by China and Bhutan.” The images show “multiple ‘chalet-like’ structures [which] are visible, with more under construction.”
It is also clear that there is more construction underway. ”In addition, heavy machinery and earth moving equipment is observed preparing similar pockets of land for future use.” This is connected with a well-developed road network that connects the settlements. It remains unclear, at this stage, where these settlements are meant to station military forces or are, essentially, a territorial grab of the land of a nation which is essentially defence-less against the might of China’s armed forces.
Bhutan and China have been in border talks for over four decades and while the outcome of these has never been revealed, there has never been any international declaration by Thimpu handing over an inch of its territory to China.
Bhutan has, historically, always relied on India, not just as a net-security provider but as an ally with a say in its foreign policy. While Bhutan’s foreign policy decisions are now seen to be entirely independent, India and Bhutan remain extremely close allies, with Thimpu being well aware of New Delhi’s concerns on Chinese expansionism.
China’s efforts at making inroads into countries it has border disputes with has been described as ”salami-slicing” by India’s late Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and has had a profound impact on the integrity of India’s land frontiers.
India and China have been locked in a face-off in Eastern Ladakh for two years while China has stepped up its illegal construction activity in Arunachal Pradesh by building enclaves in areas not physically patrolled by the Indian Army.
Responding to a query from NDTV yesterday on China’s physical consolidation of the areas in Arunachal that it holds, the Army Chief General NN Naravane said differences between India and China exist because there are different perceptions of the Line of Actual Control which remains undemarcated. General Naravane did, however, make it clear that China will not be permitted to make any further inroads into Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh. ”As far as we are concerned, we are very well poised all along our borders and there is no question that any status quo as it exists today will be altered by force.”